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BLITZER'S BLOG: Madeleine Albright speaks out on her hidden past
April 24th, 2012
03:33 PM ET

BLITZER'S BLOG: Madeleine Albright speaks out on her hidden past

By Wolf Blitzer, CNN

(CNN) – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written a very powerful new book on the Holocaust and her Jewish heritage. She didn’t know her parents were Jewish until she was 59 years old and about to become President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state.

“I had no idea that my family heritage was Jewish or that more than twenty of my relatives had died in the Holocaust,” she writes in “Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948."

She adds: “I had been raised a Roman Catholic and upon marriage converted to the Episcopalian faith. I had – I was sure – a Slavic soul.”

But while serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she began receiving letters from people who had known her parents during World War II. “I was shocked and, to be honest, embarrassed to discover that I had not known my family history better; my sister and brother shared this emotion. … I also felt driven to learn more about the grandparents whom I had been too young to know – especially since by then I had become a grandparent myself.”

Her new book is the result of that intensive search. She recounts amazing details as a result of access to sensitive government documents about her parents – documents that she discovered in Prague. “I feel an obligation I can never repay to those who helped me learn more about my family and what they experienced.”

Her parents passed away before she could discuss any of this with them, but she’s blunt in guessing why her parents never told her about being Jewish.

“I expect that my parents thought life would be easier for us if we were raised as Christians instead of Jews,” she writes.

“Celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah with my grandchildren, I have reasons for gratitude that my origins are richer and more complex than I had thought; but still, I wish my parents would have explained to me, when I was old enough to understand, what they had done. I would like to have had a chance to discuss every aspect of their deliberations.”

The former Secretary of State joins me today in The Situation Room.

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soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. Jacomo

    Who cares!

    April 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Dan

      Just about everyone except YOU.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  2. ?.

    i'm starting to have those questions too. interesting to find this stuff out.

    i wonder why we have foreign people as our secy of state?

    April 25, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  3. Jannynet

    I've always admired this lady. Bless her for seeking the information and celebrating her heritage. Yes, it is too bad she couldn't discuss it with her parents but it was a very different time.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Marshall D. Moushigian

    Bless her?! Are you kidding – she and the administration she worked for, as well as subsequent administrations, have gone out of their way to deny the Armenian Genocide, and in so doing have denied this country's own history – our archives are overflowing with evidence of its existence and, in fact, the largest foreign relief effort in the history of the US was to help the Armenians during the Genocide. Bless her? No, shame on her.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  5. kt

    The early Christians were mostly Jews. They didn't have to explain to their descendants why they became Christians. Their actions show they believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  6. Aunt B

    A prime example of people who "rose above" those who persecuted them. I so which all people would learn to not make excuses and blame others for the choices they make; which, hold them back.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  7. Texas Annie

    I consider Madeleine Albright as one of the people I look to as a true role model. Amazing lady.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  8. Ann

    She would be better off practicing Catholism, the religion JESUS taught us on earth. Episcopalian was started by the King of England who wanted to divorce his wife, which was against theCatholic religion, so he started his own religion!!
    Amazing how people think they can play God and start their own religion, just like Martin Luther who also was Catholic and decided he didn't like to have to go to church on Sundays or go to confession so he started the Lutheran religion!!

    April 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  9. sortakinda

    The conversion from Catholic to Episcopalian is totally understandable. Half-bright looked like Henry the Eighth and was Jewish anyhow.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  10. Andy Daniel

    This story makes me look at a story in my own life in a different light. About 20 years ago I was thumbing through a copy of a magazine when a picture jumped out at me – it looked exactly like my father in profile. It was of a well-known government official whose name I won't mention here. I called my father and asked him "have you heard the name xxxx xxxx?" He immediately replied that he had just heard about him, because another relative who had seen him on TV called to say that he looked identical to an uncle of my fathers. Amazingly, he also shared my father's last name at birth (which was not Daniel).

    A few years later, a relative of mine who knew my father was in a meeting where this this man was a speaker, and told to me that he had the same mannerisms as my father.

    A few years later I tracked down this now-retired official and we chatted for a few minutes by phone. He thought it was probably a coincidence and he just looked like my relatives, and although both our families were originally from Europe, we were from different countries and neither of us knew of any relatives in the other's country. Also, in fairness the surname that he shared with my father was a fairly common one. The interesting thing is that we are Jewish and he is not – but again, perhaps his family was and it was hidden from him?

    April 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  11. Dave

    Judaism is a religion and not a race. One can choose to join or leave at any time.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  12. Mark Tutte

    What is it to be Jew? does it make you better than others? provide special permission to do something? this type of alienation is what makes the world screwed as it is now. Jews and other hundreds of people were scattered around the world; big deal. Gipsies were also killed in the holocaust but they do not even have a place to call it home and they are being kicked out from France and other nations as we speak. Get a life and call yourself human.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  13. Karen

    Good for Ms. Albright that she had access to sensitive government documents and was able to learn more about who she is. I dream about having access to my birth records and other documents related to my parents, which are sealed because of some adoption laws. I pray that the laws will change in this area.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  14. Shalom Morris

    As a rabbi of a 'Spanish' synagogue in NY I have had many descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish inquisition approach me about discovering their Jewish past. If you are among those with this history, please feel welcome to find me on facebook. Everyone has the privilege to know their past and to connect to it.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  15. serbian princess

    Does that explains her animosity toward Serbs? We saved her skin in WWII when she was taken as refugee by Serbian family. As good Catholic girl she repaid them by demonizing Serbs and making refugees out of us.

    Is she mentioning that in her story?

    April 25, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  16. longtooth

    It must be terribly hard to give up your ancestral identity and hide it from your children. People do it when they feel it's necessary, but it's a sad thing.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  17. IAB

    My sociology prof. in college looked at my class and stated he could see the influence of different races in our class. I think he was saying if the truth were known there i no pure race. Now my anthropology prof. had another story to tell. I loved both classes. Helped me to understand my fellow man.

    We all need food, shelter, clothing, love, self esteem, and to know we are a part of something. We are all created equal in the eyes of our Creator and if we do not learn to coexist on this plant we will all destroy one another. NO MAN is an island.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  18. IAB

    If one really wants to know anything about this very bright intelligent women read MADAME SECRETARY. I read it some time ago and found her to be an amazing women. If I can remember she speaks more then 4 languages. She also state she felt very bad b/c she did very little in regards to the genocide in Africa. If I can remember correctly she helped write the constitution for a new formed country. I am convinced the Democrats have and have had the most intelligent women.
    Albright's father was Condy Rice's prof. in college.
    During prohibition in 1930 the one republican women left the GOP and became a Democrat b/c of the GREED in the GOP. Hilary Clinton is another amazing intelligent women. She and Albright are friends.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  19. Sam

    Parents do things in the best interest of their children – sometimes even if the children do not agree with that approach.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  20. Cohen

    This story was in the news years ago in an article written by Barry Schweid of the Associated Press.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  21. truefax

    OR MAYBE they just decided to dring the jesus juice instead of the moses malt. Either way pick your crazy.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  22. Renait

    Considering that religions are just collections of traditions that many families adhere to, we are attached to them for sentimental reasons, but they are changeable and certainly not worth dying for. I would give up the traditions in a heartbeat to save my family. At the same time, I would fight to the death anyone who would use those traditions as an excuse to murder their neighbors.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  23. Cohen

    Oh really! Who is she kidding? A person in her position had to have an extensive background check years ago. She is not fooling anyone, this is an old story.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Tamar

      I couldn't agree more! My parents are survivors. If it's true that she didn't know about her own history, then it's scary that she was our Secretary of State. I'm not buying it...she's lying.

      April 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  24. Jim

    I've always admired Ms. Albright – very smart and dedicated woman, a great example for my daughters.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  25. sayitstr8r

    please, ms. albright, use your experience, contacts, and remaining years to continue to work for liberation for all people, and the new personal knowledge you have will bear fruit for generations. this is one way you can give back to what you never previously knew you lost.

    blessings for you and your whole family, past, present and future

    April 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  26. John

    This is old news, Wolf. Of course, since it doesn't fit in well with CNN's leftist, pro-Muslim position CNN didn't bother to learn any of this until now. Yet, Jews and most Americans have known this for years – ever since Albright first publicized it shortly after W first took office.

    What a great news source – not!

    April 25, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  27. Nick Butto

    God bless you, your parents, and all those that aided you and your parents during that awful and shameful time in world history. I'm NOT Jewish but I do believe that there should be some kind of remembrance constructed in every city in every country that values human lives. When my generation is gone, a direct link to that horror will be mostly lost. There will nobody left to actually look at and speak to and inquire of and the horror of what we let happen will slowly fade into the dusty old history books and the possibility of another heinous crime like that will slowly become more and more likely as years progress. We are a violent species who kill our own young before they're born...not a proud thing to think of for most people.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  28. Mark

    Too bad her parents raised her in any religion, six of one, half dozen of the other. Forcing a child into any RELIGION IS CHILD ABUSE!!!

    April 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  29. Randall Bart

    I can believe she was actually in office as UN Ambassador before the FBI found out she was born Jewish. I can't believe to took four years before the FBI found out. Once the FBI knew she was Jewish, they must have told Clinton immediately. It was a potential bombshell revelation, so Clinton must have told Albright to prevent her being blindsided. I suspect she knew she was Jewish three years before the announcement.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  30. mklsgl

    For many, renouncing or hiding their religious Judaism was the only means of survival, and it dates back at least 1000 years. Of course, no Jew can denounce or hide their maternal bloodline, which is why it's laughable when the radical Muslims talk of wiping Israel off the Earth; Israel/Judaism is in our blood, a state of mind, our examined life... it can never be erased.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  31. KeepingitReal

    Really ? Who cares ?

    April 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  32. Malcolm Spence

    There are lot of people who had a similar experience with their Spanish/Jewish background which had to be suppressed during the Inquisition. You became catholic or were burnt at the stake, or expelled if you were lucky.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  33. Florida

    Wolf;
    Ask her if she suddenly changed her opinion about how to deal with Jerusalem ? From an episcopalean view that it should be a shining light on a hill as Abraham discovered it under Melchizadek, or as the "capitol of Israel forever", with all the evil that ostricizing christians, muslims, and even wise-men from the East, obviously, creates.....

    April 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  34. jim x

    ms. albight has always beena hero of mine. i remember her sense of shock upon learning her family's heritage and the horror they suffered at the hands of such barbarians during the war. her tour of aushwitz, i believe it was, was so emotional for her and others with her. the courage it must have taken to pursue this poject is truly phenominalo.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  35. Elizabeth

    It is a shame when people have to hide their ethnic background. Often in Europe, Jews were not given citizenship, but separate passports. Not being allowed to be a citizen of a country because of religion is asking for conflicts, often a cause of strife in the Middle East. It is wonderful that she was able to find out more about her past, and I hope she was able to find some family members.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  36. Chuck D

    No. She lied about her Jewish past. But why lie. Why did General Wesley Clark hide his Jewish past?

    April 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  37. Joel D.

    Thanks for the FREE of SPEECH and EXPRESSION and the JEWISH moderators in our media.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Aviyan

      Posted on I am crying I am lahunigg so hard. It's past midnight and I should be sleeping but you made my screwing around on the Internet so worth it. I think it is the phrase bummer basket is the cherry on top. Thanks so much for failing sure, maybe your Mom would have come out ahead it you succeeded. But, you have brought joy to so many.

      October 13, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  38. Joel D.

    I wonder if she realized that what Hitler done to her people; what her people is doing to the P a l e s t i n i a n s since 1948 to this date in P a les tine by the Is ra eli occu pation!

    April 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  39. Joel D.

    I wonder if she realized that what H i t l e r done to her people; what her people is doing to the Palestinians since 1948 to this date in Palestine by the I s r a e l i occupation!

    April 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  40. Joel D.

    I wonder if she realized that what Hitler done to her people; what her people is doing to the Palestinians since 1948 to this date in Palestine by the Israeli occupation!

    April 25, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  41. joesmith

    what a wonderful time in her life; may this new knowledge, combined with the already rich Christian experience be a blessing to her, her family, and to us who will now share through her book..great stuff..

    April 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  42. ArchieDeBunker

    Yes, ol' Madeline Not-At-Albright has a "hidden" past, alright. The media has hidden the fact that she committed treason in 2004 when she stood before the parliament of an enemy country (France) and, by stating her mistaken opinions about the Iraq war, gave clear help and comfort to the enemy (Al Qeda and the insurgents in Iraq. She should be in jail, rather than always being celebrated as an upright and wonderful citizen!

    April 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  43. JC in Western U.S.

    I can't help but wonder how many other people had the exact same experience that Madeleine Albright had, and still don't know it. I wonder about their children and grandchildren. It makes me feel grief that there are people who died in concentration camps, thinking that at least their families and faith would continue through those who survived, never knowing that some of those survivors wouldn't ever know that faith or know of the fate of the people who died.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  44. JC

    It's a wise child that knows its father.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  45. Agnim

    The kidnapped African Americans had it a bit 'easier' than Madeleine. They had government help in 'hiding' their indigenous identities.
    The european governments were the ones to change the African identities. This saved the kidnapped Africans a lot of trouble in trying to conceal their African identities in order to 'fit in'.
    So today, African people in America have all kinds of strange christian/european names, just like Madeleine.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  46. Tamara Weaver

    I am glad that she wrote this book and I look forward to reading it. One of the legacies of the Holocaust was the survivor guilt which made many stop practicing their faith; another was the fear that it would happen again, so to protect what was left of their families, many gave up their religion. When people write about not caring about the Holocaust, it saddens me because I know that it is just a matter of time until another one happens, if not to the Jews, then to another group. When will the word learn of peace?

    Madeleine Albright continues to be on my list of people I would love to meet.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  47. Eddie Haskell

    she is full of crap. Hew name was Madlenka corbell. That's like my name being being Moshe Pipik and saying, " I didn't know I was Jewish"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Typical Lying Kike!!

    April 25, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  48. Ed

    With such a "rich" background, how did she become such a strident ideaolgue?

    April 25, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  49. rs1201

    You are what you are and saying that her parents raised her Catholic because "it would be easier growing up Catholic than Jewish" is turning one's back on one's heritage. Her parents acted shamefully and if I remember correctly,Albright denied her Jewish identity when the press published her story. It was only when she was presented with irrefutable evidence that she admitted her Jewish identity and it was revealed that she was aware of her Jewish heritage for quite a while and had kept it hidden...again, shameful. At the time, I remember thinking...who the heck wants her to be one of us...she can stay where she is...the American Jewish Community won't suffer one iota and actually, after finding out what she and her parents had done...most Jews refused to accept her as one of us.
    It is a privilege and an honor to be a Jew. Our heritage is filled with unequalled courage, pride, and unfortunately, a great deal of suffering. Anyone who denies their Jewish heritage is not welcome amongst us. World Jewry along with Israel have contributed more to the world's accomplishments and advancement in science, literature, mathematics, physics, medicine, than any other group of people on earth. We did all this without Albright...so she can definitely stay where she is...she's really not welcome amongst us!

    April 25, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  50. cleatus

    just because you are jewish doesn't mean you follow judaism.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  51. transplantednorth

    there are so many people finding out only now about their Jewish identities that were hidden during the Holocaust and under the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. Judaism in Europe and Russia is rising like a Phoenix.

    April 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • jim

      God, I hope you're wrong!

      April 25, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Martin

      Between the wars Communism was denounced by Fascists in Europe as a 'Jewish ideology' because so many of its intellectuals and leaders of the Russian revolution were secular Jews. One of the consequences of the Holocaust and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel is to conflate Zionism with Judaism to the point where you cannot express anti-Zionist views without being labelled anti-Semitic. This has proven politically convenient for many reactionaries, even those who were (and for all I know, still are) inherently anti-Semitic - you blur the distinction between Nazism and socialism as a way of attacking socialism.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  52. Jim Thomas

    Bless you,your parents and the rest of your family.Jim Thomas Phx.Az.

    April 24, 2012 at 7:34 pm |

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