A Surprise for Madeleine Albright

Article excerpt

It doubtless came as a shock to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that her family in Czechoslovakia was Jewish - and that many of her relatives died in Auschwitz or en route there.

Mrs. Albright was raised a Catholic and was told only that some relatives had died "during the course of" World War II. Since her name has become familiar around the world - due to her time as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then to her nomination as secretary of state - Mrs. Albright has, she says, received much information from many sources, some of it credible, and some of it suggesting her Jewish origin. In December, Arab newspapers attacked Mrs. Albright's nomination as Secretary of State, citing uncorroborated reports of her Jewish roots. The State Department responded by pointing out that Mrs. Albright was raised a Roman Catholic and converted to Episcopalianism when she married.

And then The Washington Post, in researching the secretary for a story in its upcoming Sunday magazine, delved into Czechoslovakian Foreign Ministry documents and found a birth certificate for her father, Josef Korbel, designating him "Jewish." The Post also found persuasive evidence that three of her grandparents and other relatives were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz or died of starvation or typhoid in Terezin, the camp that served as a staging point for Czechoslovakian Jews on their way to Auschwitz.

Mrs. Albright's parents - who both died years ago - told her nothing of this. So she grew up considering herself a Czech Catholic.

Mrs. Albright is certainly not the only child of Holocaust survivors whose parents have dropped a curtain of silence over their experiences; and many who survived by escaping to safe havens felt particularly ashamed and guilty about those left behind who perished. …