From .............. Associated Press
February 4, 1997
By BARRY SCHWEID AP Diplomatic Writer WASHINGTON
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says she has received "fairly compelling" information her family may have been of Jewish origin and that her father's parents died in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
"I had never been told this," Albright said in an interview Monday.
She called the information she has received since her nomination "a major surprise" and said she and her family were looking into it.
White House press secretary Mike McCurry said today Albright talked to Clinton about the revelations early Monday afternoon. "The president said it was a fascinating story and encouraged Madeleine to find out more, to look into her family history," McCurry said.
He said the revelation will not affect her role in Middle East peace talks, noting that Americans of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith are involved in the peace process. He also noted that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is Jewish.
Albright's father, Josef Korbel, was a Czech diplomat who left Prague at the onset of World War II. He settled the family in London. She was then just a year old.
Albright said her parents became Roman Catholics early in the war and that she was "fairly religious," attending church regularly.
'I never thought of myself as anything else," said Albright, who became an Episcopalian when she married and remains so today.
Discussing her background with The Associated Press, Albright said,
"I do believe it to be a personal issue, but since it is an object of discussion, I would just as soon have you know what I know."
Albright, 59, said since President Clinton nominated her in December she had received a torrent of letters -- some of them "completely off the wall" -- from people who claimed to have known her family.
She was presented also with what appeared to be family birth certificates, she said. "I started to think about it, and to put pieces together. There was more and more information, and it began to make more sense to me," Albright said.
Information that her father's parents died in Auschwitz "seems fairly compelling to me but I want to check it out, obviously," she said.
The Washington Post said in today's editions that its research in preparation for a feature on Albright in the Feb. 9 Sunday magazine found more than a dozen of her relatives, including two grandparents, were killed as Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Albright told the Post that her late parents had said of her relatives only that they died "during the course of the war."
Her appointment drew complaints in some parts of the Arab world, as did the nomination of William Cohen, whose father was Jewish, to be defense secretary.
In addition to letters, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Albright received information and documents provided to her by reporters looking into her background.
Burns said Albright was intrigued by the information brought to her and would "look into" it. "No one ever mentioned there were Jews in her family -- parents or grandparents," Burns said. All are dead now.
"She thinks it's more than likely her grandparents were Jewish," Burns said. "She wants to ascertain that for herself."
He said questions about her ancestry would not complicate Mideast peace efforts.
"It's not going to have any effect on her performance as secretary of state. ... It has nothing to do with her job," Burns said.
In 1959, upon her marriage, she became an Episcopalian and today occasionally attends church. She is divorced and has three daughters.
As ambassador to the United Nations, Albright blocked Arab efforts to push the Security Council to condemn Israel for the shelling of a U.N. base in south Lebanon that killed at least 91 civilians. She also vetoed a resolution declaring invalid Israel's expropriation of Arab-owned land in east Jerusalem.
Her defense of Israel was consistent with longstanding U.S. policy.
"The appointment of Albright will virtually make Tel Aviv the capital of the United States, and not Washington," Egyptian columnist Moustafa Amin wrote weeks ago in the As-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which is Saudi-owned and published in London.
Both Albright's parents were born in small towns in Czechoslovakia. They were in the first generation of the pre-war democratic Czechoslovakia, and they spoke to their children in terms of their "political existence," not their religious background, she recalled.
Albright's father was a press attache in Yugoslavia at the outset. His association with Eduard Benes, the democratic president of Czechoslovakia, impelled him to flee to London, where he sought a job as a reporter for a Yugoslav newspaper, then worked for the Czech government in exile.
Returning to Prague after Germany's defeat, he resumed his diplomatic career, only to leave with his family for the United States in 1948 after Czechoslovakia fell to Soviet control.
After returning to Prague in 1945, Korbel served as ambassador to Yugoslavia until 1948. When Czechoslovakia fell to Soviet control, Korbel and his family left for the United States.
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From .......... TIME Daily
February 4, 1997
A Revelation for the Secretary
WASHINGTON, D.C.: The news started as just a trickle of letters to Madeline Albright after she was named UN Ambassador in 1993: Information about the European side of her family, the side left behind when her father, Josef Korbel, fled Czechoslovakia after WWII. The trickle grew to a torrent, many from Arab groups questioning her nomination as Secretary of State in December. And on Monday, the surprising story came out in the Washington Post: Madeline Albright, raised a Roman Catholic by her Czech parents, had learned that she has Jewish roots, and that several close relatives, including her paternal grandparents, died in Nazi concentration camps.
Albright told the Post that the news was compelling, but that she wanted to conduct her own research. "Obviously it is a very personal matter for my family and brother and sister and my children," she said.
How did Albright stay in the dark for so long? She says that her parents had always told her only that her relatives had died in the war, and she had not questioned further.
Her family had always thought of themselves primarily as Czech, rarely noting their religious background. An unpublished 11-page family narrative written by Albright's mother makes no mention of the Korbel's religious background. Albright says she did not follow up on the letters because many of them were incorrect (writing, for example, that she had been born in Belgrade rather than Prague).
But the discovery brings further questions. Although Albright says she had no idea about her background until recently, it's hard to believe that the highly intelligent and inquisitive foreign policy expert, who has spent her life studying and traveling to Eastern Europe, did no research on her own family history or ignored letters she started receiving in 1993.
After Monday, they are letters that can be ignored no longer. --Mark Coatney
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From .............. Associated Press
February 7, 1997
By MIKE FEINSILBER - Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For those who shared Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's experience -- born Jewish but raised Christian -- there is no surprise that she did not ask her parents the questions that might have laid bare her roots.
In such families, they say, the question of heritage becomes a taboo subject and the child learns not to ask about it, perhaps not to think about it.
"My experience is that when there are these secrets in families, very often the message is that there are things not spoken of. People learn to stay away, even in their own minds," says author Kenneth Jacobson. His book, "Embattled Selves," explores the lives of 15 men and women "who discovered, concealed, embraced, or rejected their Jewishness as a result of Nazi persecution."
This week, Albright, in her first days of adjusting to her new office, had to adjust to her history as well. The Washington Post, in preparing a profile, uncovered documents, interviewed relatives and established that more than a dozen members of her family were killed as Jews during the Holocaust.
She says she knew nothing of it. Her father was a Czech diplomat in the years between the creation of democratic Czechoslovakia and the Nazi occupation. The family escaped to exile in London, and Madeleine was raised a Roman Catholic, fairly religious, told little about her forebears and relatives left behind.
In a story today from Letohrad, in the Czech Republic, The New York Times reported that the town's mayor sent four letters, written in Czech, to Mrs. Albright in 1994 and 1996 recalling her family's Jewish past. One said her paternal grandparents died while in the hands of the Nazis.
The Times quoted her spokesman, James Rubin, as saying she did not specifically recall receiving the first letter, which accompanied an article from a local paper saying records of Mrs. Albright's father had been found in the "birth register of the Jewish community."
The newspaper also said that during the vetting process before her appointment to head the State Department, Mrs. Albright told the White House that she might be of Jewish descent. She also cautioned Rubin to be "less categorical" in dismissing the possibility that she was of Jewish background.
The article said a first cousin, once close, tried to make contact. "Obviously she does not want a relationship with me," the cousin told the Times.
Jacobson says he has difficulty imagining what the conversation would have been like in that educated household, well aware of world affairs, during World War II and later, when the subject of the Holocaust arose.
"It would be hard to imagine that they never spoke about what happened to the Jews in Europe," Jacobson said. "Maybe one day she will write about this."
"It's a sensitive matter, very personal, very difficult," says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism.
Foxman's own life parallels Albright's in one major regard.
He, too, was raised in denial of his Jewish birthright. When he was 15 months old, his parents, Polish Jews, handed him to a Catholic nanny during World War II. She raised him as a devout Catholic.
A bitter custody fight, a kidnapping by his nanny and a re-kidnapping by his parents ensued before the reunited family emigrated to America.
"To tell your children how horrible life is, to say to them, 'This is what you have to bear' -- a lot of parents don't want to expose them to that," Foxman said.
To this day, Foxman said, "In Poland, Jews surface who thought they were Catholics all their lives. In Poland, Belgium, France, Italy, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who suspect they were born Jews but will never know. Sometimes it comes out in deathbed confessions of their adopted parents."
A few years ago, Foxman's organization called a meeting of "hidden children" -- Jewish children raised in convents or by good-samaritan Christian families who concealed the truth from the Germans and the children, too. "We expected 300, and 1,600 showed up," he said.
Added author Jacobson: "These things are in some sense universal. These identity problems are traumatic for Jews persecuted by the Nazis, but everyone faces questions of who you are and where you belong and who other people think you are."
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