Madeleine Albright Discusses Jewish Heritage

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discussed her long-unknown Jewish heritage and her new book, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1984, on Friday afternoon at Upstairs on the Square.

Prague Winter explores the history of the former Czechoslovakia, the country where Albright was born and raised, from the Nazi invasion during World War II up until the onset of the Cold War through the eyes of her family and their contemporaries.

Albright said that she believes that many of the lessons her family learned during that time are worth remembering.

“These people were all thrown back upon their primal instincts, and compelled to make very pragmatic, moral judgments from a very short menu of options,” she said.

Raised Catholic, Albright learned about her Jewish heritage, and that members of her family had died during the Holocaust, during her vetting process to serve under President Bill Clinton.

“I thought I needed to explore the story more, and not just explore it for my own sake, but also to pay homage to those who died and put it into a historical context,” Albright said.

Albright, who called herself “a child of war,” said that she was 12 years old when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. She lived in England with her family throughout World War II.

The experience of living through a war shaped her life course, and inspired her to work for international peace and diplomacy, she said.

“My friends often ask whether I am a pessimist or an optimist,” she said. “I am an optimist who worries a lot.”

Albright also noted that her career has had a ripple effect in her birth country as well as in the United States.

“There’s a whole generation of girls in [the former] Czechoslovakia with the first name Madeleine, and I’m very proud of that,” she said.

Audience members noted that they were struck by Albright’s perseverance throughout her experiences.

“She was asked to be president of Czechoslovakia, but said it was not for her,” said Aparajita Tripathi ’13, recalling a joke that Albright shared. “Taking in all those new experiences, nothing phased her.”

“She tells such a rich history that appreciates many viewpoints,” said S. Logan Gibson, a student at the Kennedy School. “She wears many hats and it was delightful to hear her speak about all of those perspectives.”

—Staff writer Sabrina A. Mohamed can be reached at smohamed@college.harvard.edu.

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