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Transparent: Jill Soloway Reveals the Real-Life Inspiration Behind Those Berlin Flashbacks

Why was it lost to history?

Liz Raftery

The idea of inherited trauma - the idea that we're all carrying around emotional scars from our ancestors, even if we don't consciously know it - is a major theme in the second season of Amazon's Transparent. Through flashbacks, we learn that the Pfeffermans' struggles with gender identity and queerness started long before Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), all the way back to 1930s Berlin.

In a series of flashbacks, we meet Maura's mother Rose (Emily Robinson) and her brother Gittel (Hari Nef) - who is literally a card-carrying transsexual in prewar Berlin. Their mother, Yetta (Michaela Watkins) struggles to accept Gittel's sexuality even as she clearly loves her child. In the season finale, the flashbacks come full circle, with Rose giving birth to the child that we now know as Maura.

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"Another thing that we learned about through the past year was epigenetics, and the idea that your DNA and your cells have memories," Transparent creator Jill Soloway tells TVGuide.com. "And the inheritance of potentially having a legacy of gender-queerness, and gender-queer people in your family who have already figured this out for themselves decades and decades and decades ago."

Transparent creator Jill Soloway says it was her own "Moppa" who told her about the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute - the "cultural hotspot for queer people all over Europe," according to Soloway, where we see Rose and Gittel attending parties much to their mother's chagrin.

"[Hirschfeld] had this place in Berlin that was sort of a central gathering place for thought about sex and sexuality, including homosexuality and trans-ness. He coined the word 'transsexual,'" Soloway explains. He had these sort of scientific salons at his institute where people like Margaret Singer visited. He had dormitories and a library."

The scene in Transparent in which members of the Hitler Youth stormed the Institute is also rooted in reality. "At some point some Nazi youths stormed the place and took all of the books out of the library and burned them," Soloway says. "What the Nazis were doing in terms of really weaving together [Hirschfeld's] queerness and his Jewishness as a way to kind of turn him into sort of like a bogeyman. They used this idea of somebody who was Jewish and who was gay to scare people."

Despite the fact that the raid was recorded, many stories about the Institute and the people who gathered there have been sadly lost to history.

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"It was covered by photographers. It was a well-documented book-burning," according to Soloway. "A lot of the history was obviously burned pre-Holocaust. I don't know why. I guess it's one of those things, it kind of didn't make it."

The idea of epigenetics is explored through Maura's daughter Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) in Season 2 of Transparent, but Soloway says it also resonated with some of the show's staff members, including transgender writer Our Lady J.

"We started talking about Magnus and the Institute and the next day she came in and she's like, 'I'm so sad.' We're like, 'Why?'" Soloway recalls. "She's like, 'Because I had to grow up feeling so sad and so lost and yet, this was history. My parents could have known all about this, had this history not been kept from us. I have this history and I had to wait until I was ... however old she was until she realized that she could transition."

Transparent Season 2 is available now on Amazon Prime.