A Revelation for the Secretary

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The news started as just a trickle of letters to Madeline Albright after she was named UN Ambassador in 1993: Information about the European side of her family, the side left behind when her father, Josef Korbel, fled Czechoslovakia after WWII. The trickle grew to a torrent, many from Arab groups questioning her nomination as Secretary of State in December. And on Monday, the surprising story came out in the Washington Post: Madeline Albright, raised a Roman Catholic by her Czech parents, had learned that she has Jewish roots, and that several close relatives, including her paternal grandparents, died in Nazi concentration camps. Albright told the Post that the news was compelling, but that she wanted to conduct her own research. "Obviously it is a very personal matter for my family and brother and sister and my children," she said. How did Albright stay in the dark for so long? She says that her parents had always told her only that her relatives had died in the war, and she had not questioned further. Her family had always thought of themselves primarily as Czech, rarely noting their religious background. An unpublished 11-page family narrative written by Albright's mother makes no mention of the Korbel's religious background. Albright says she did not follow up on the letters because many of them were incorrect (writing, for example, that she had been born in Belgrade rather than Prague). But the discovery brings further questions. Although Albright says she had no idea about her background until recently, it's hard to believe that the highly intelligent and inquisitive foreign policy expert, who has spent her life studying and traveling to Eastern Europe, did no research on her own family history or ignored letters she started receiving in 1993. After Monday, they are letters that can be ignored no longer.