She’s one of Australia’s best loved television personalities – but few would know that Magda Szubanski’s father was an assassin.
Renown for her role as Sharon Strzelecki in the hit series Kath & Kim, Szubanski has fought many demons on the road to success, not the least being the realisation she was gay.
In her new memoir, the aptly-named Reckoning, she admits she struggled to understand who she was and where she came from.
Szubanski told the ABC that her father, Zbigniew, was in Warsaw during World War II when he was recruited for a top secret counter-intelligence execution squad.
“The job of his unit was to execute Polish traitors who were giving secrets to the Nazis and also telling the Nazis where Jewish people were hiding,” she told 7.30.
“He effectively started killing when he was about 15 or 16.”
Szubanski said her father did not appear traumatised by his past and claimed to sleep well at night, but she still felt a sense of guilt.
“I had to make my own peace with what he’d done and I had to open that door on history and start to look into his deeds, and how they’d affected him and in turn how they’d affected me.
“As I was growing up, I struggled to understand where that guilt had come from, and I needed to really know that he was on the right side, and I needed to understand, in a complex way, what war does to people and what the legacy is, and how that translates through the generations — and in order to understand myself.”
And fitting in to suburban Melbourne in the late 60s and early 70s was a new challenge.
“We were a migrant family,” she said. “I had a weird name, Magda Szubanski, which I couldn’t even pronounce until I was about 10.”
On top of all of this, there was also the realisation that she was gay and she was terrified to tell anyone, even her family, for fear of rejection.
“That’s the one thing that gay people have to grow up (with), knowing that they are a minority of one within their family,” she said.
“People can be irrational about it, no matter how much they love you and I know really kind of groovy parents, when they found out their child was not straight, have reacted really badly and rejected them.
“It’s a terrifying thing to face because it’s such a primal rejection. For me it turned out OK – it was fine, my parents were great.”
It was only many years later, in 2012, that Szubanski felt comfortable in coming out publicly.
“Immediately afterwards I regretted it and thought ‘what the frick have I done?’ Because I just wasn’t sure how it would all unfold,” she said.
“Then gradually that coming out empowered and healed me in a way I could never have anticipated.
“I feel now that I’m standing on the most solid, happiest ground I think I’ve ever been on in my whole life.
“So, I actually feel fricking fantastic.”