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Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reveals her Jewish origins

February 3, 1997

Less than two weeks after Madeleine Albright was sworn in as the first female U.S. Secretary of State, investigations by the Washington Post revealed that Albright's parents were born Jewish. Albright made the story public in an Associated Press interview on February 3, 1997.

Although three of Madeleine Albright's grandparents had been murdered as Jews during the Holocaust, she had been raised by her parents as a Catholic. Albright joined the Episcopal Church at her marriage.

Albright's parents had fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for Britain during the Second World War. Returning home, Albright's father became a Czech ambassador, but the family fled again when the Czech government fell to a Communist coup. Like some other Holocaust refugees, Albright's parents felt it safer to remain Christians even after they were granted asylum in the U.S. in 1949. According to Albright, they never told their daughter their full story.

The uncovering of Albright's origins initiated an extended public debate. Albright had indicated that her inbred knowledge of the true threat of totalitarian regimes was an important element of her understanding of the contemporary world. Many commentators questioned how someone as sensitive to history as Albright could have been as incurious as she had seemed to be about evidence pointing to her family's origins.

Madeleine Albright's installation as President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State on January 23, 1997 followed a four-year stint as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

While serving as Secretary of State, Albright kept the U.S. actively engaged in the international arena. During her term, she brokered peace in Kosovo, presided over the expansion of NATO, secured U.S. ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and traveled to 91 countries over four years. As Secretary of State, she displayed a toughness of character and bluntness of speech that supporters applauded even as critics charged that these qualities alienated allies.

Albright served as Secretary of State until the end of Clinton's Presidency in January, 2001. Albright is currently the Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. The author of many books, Albright's most recent works include Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership (2008) and Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box (2009).

To see video clips from an interview with Madeleine Albright from the MAKERS project, click here.

Sources:Washington Post, February 5, 1997, February 9, 1997; New York Times, September 22, 1996, January 23, 1997, February 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 19, 26, 1997; Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2000; National Women's Hall of Fame, www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=7.

Madeleine Albright circa 1997
Full image
Madeleine Albright, first female U.S. Secretary of State, circa 1997.
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reveals her Jewish origins." (Viewed on March 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/03/1997/madeleine-albright>.


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