Holocaust adds twist to Albright's gripping tale

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The personal story of Madeleine Korbel Albright was already arresting; the Czech girl whose family fled Prague and the Communist coup of 1948 for America, where she would rise to become the first woman Secretary of State. Now there is more. Her origins, it seems, are not Catholic but Jewish, and three of her grandparents perished in the Holocaust.

These revelations, which have apparently surprised Ms Albright almost as much as anyone else, came in yesterday's Washington Post, the fruit of research by the paper into her background in Czechoslovakia, which her parents left after the Nazi occupation in 1939. The Korbel family spent the war in London before returning home in 1945. Three years later they left for the US, for good.

The Post said German, Czech and Jewish archive documents, including transportation lists to Auschwitz, suggested at least a dozen of her relatives were victims of the Holocaust, including three grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Ms Albright, 59, was never told as a child, and her parents subsequently only said that these family members had died "during the course of the war".

Had the Korbels not left Prague in 1939, they probably would have met the same fate.

As it was, Madeleine Korbel was brought up as a Catholic, before becoming an Episcopalian. "I have always thought of myself as a Czechoslovak Catholic," she told the Post. But, she said, the new information was "fairly compelling." She planned to conduct further research herself: "Obviously it is a very personal matter for my family and brother and sister and children. The only thing I have to go by is what my mother and father told me." They have died - her father Josef, himself a former diplomat, in 1977, and her mother Mandula in 1989.

Ms Albright is not the first Secretary of State to have fled tyranny in Europe. In 1938, a 15-year-old German Jewish boy named Henry Alfred Kissinger came to America with his family to escape Hitler's persecution. Those origins did not prevent him brokering the Israeli-Arab truce after the 1973 war.

But as a woman, and as chief foreign policy aide of a President reckoned as pro-Israeli as any in recent times, she may have greater problems in the region. Hardly had she been nominated last December than sections of the Arab press were portraying her as a card-carrying member of the US Zionist lobby.