May 4, 2012

Madeleine Albright

From: Tablet Magazine - Madeleine Albright’s War Years - April 26, 2012

In a new memoir, Prague Winter, the former secretary of State explores her family’s World War II history and discovers the fate of those left behind

In 1996, just as the Honorable Madeleine Korbelova Albright was confirmed as secretary of State  revelations came to light that her Czech parents, neither of whom were living by then, had been born Jews.

Josef and Anna (née Spieglová) Korbel converted to Catholicism in 1941, when Josef was working for the exiled Czech government in London.

The information, which Albright learned of just a few months before it was made public, raised many questions: Why had her parents converted, and why had they never told her?

Why had she never figured it out? And what happened to the relatives who remained in Czechoslovakia during World War II and after?

It was only when her term as secretary of State ended that Albright was able to pursue answers to these questions in earnest. In her new book, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, she chronicles her search and the answers she found.

She joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to talk about what it was like to learn of her family background at age 59, and about what she’s done with this knowledge in the intervening years. Albright also talks about why Hillary Clinton has a harder job than she did. [Running time: 16:09.]

Listen here

‘Prague Winter’ Blends History and Family Saga
by Michael Korda  | April 25, 2012 - The Daily Beast (edited)

The first thing to be said about Prague Winter, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s new book, is that she very wisely chooses to confront early on in it her apparent surprise at learning late in life that she was born Jewish.

This I find easy enough to understand. My father and his brothers never mentioned to their English wives and children that they were Jewish.

Being Hungarian was exotic and foreign enough to begin with, and so long as they were not asked, they found it easier, from 1919 on, to let the matter drop.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” might have been their motto, so much so that when I was writing Charmed Lives, a biography of the three Korda brothers, and told my mother that my father was Jewish she said, “Oh, don’t be silly, darling,” and assumed it was just another example of my father’s strange sense of humor, and failure to grasp the rudiments of the English class system.

So Albright gets my sympathy for the fuss that was raised about this in the press—though I have to say that if relatives had been writing to me for years about this, it would certainly have occurred to me to find out a bit more about it.

One can’t help but think that there was an element of not wanting to know at work, rather than simply not knowing.

Still, those who criticized her simply do not understand the pressures facing Central European Jews in the years from 1933 to 1945, as it became increasingly obvious that the price for being identified as, Jewish was not just being excluded from certain clubs, schools, jobs, resorts, neighborhoods, and apartment buildings.

No, the price of identifying yourself as Jewish in Central Europe in that era was isolation, joblessness, unpredictable brutality, loss of citizenship, exile, or eventually victim of mass-murder.

The states created by the Versailles Treaty out of the shards of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 constituted an ethnic crazy quilt, with the borders drawn to include large numbers of people who spoke different languages, were of a different race and religion, and had hated each other for centuries.

Everybody in the empire was despised and hated by some other group or groups and anti-Semitism was universal, but held in check by the Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 to 1916.

The downside of Albright’s book is that it resembles the definition of a camel as a horse designed by a committee.

There are at least two stories here, a family story, which includes, but is not limited to a Holocaust story, and the story of the birth of Czechoslovakia, formed by taking the ancient Austrian provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, and adding to them the province of Slovakia, and a narrow eastern and northern frontier district of Austrian ethnic Germans.

The family story is well told and moving. The political story is familiar, but well worth reading again.

Whatever else the Czech experience has demonstrated from 1919 to today, it has been above all proof of the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Everybody (except the Germans) had good intentions about the creation of Czechoslovakia, yet less than 20 years later she was abandoned by her creators, to become ruled by the demonic Reinhard Heydrich, inventor of “the Final Solution.”

After the Allied victory, the country was repackaged as a Soviet puppet state ruled by odious Stalinist thugs.

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