(JTA) — Henry Kissinger has apologized for remarks he made to President Richard Nixon in 1973 to the effect that it would not be an American concern if the Soviet Union sent its Jews to the gas chambers.
Kissinger issued the apology in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that appeared on its website Dec. 24 but is dated Dec. 26.
The recently released remarks, recorded in the Oval Office, were taken out of context, Kissinger wrote.
"For someone who lost in the Holocaust many members of my immediate family and a large proportion of those with whom I grew up, it is hurtful to see an out-of-context remark being taken so contrary to its intentions and to my convictions, which were profoundly shaped by these events," Kissinger wrote. "References to gas chambers have no place in political discourse, and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago."
Kissinger made the controversial remarks after a meeting he and Nixon had with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on March 1, 1973, in which Meir pleaded for the United States to put pressure on the Soviet Union to release its Jews. Nixon and Kissinger, who was then the secretary of state, dismissed the plea after Meir left.
"The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy," Kissinger is reported to have said on the tapes. "And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
Nixon replied, "I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it."
Six months later, during the Yom Kippur War, Nixon rejected Kissinger’s advice to delay an arms airlift to Israel as a means of setting the stage for an Egypt confident enough to pursue peace. Among other reasons, Nixon cited Israel’s urgent need for the arms.
Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post that his comments were not a "policy statement," but were made in response to a request by Nixon that he try to encourage several vocal senators to agree to stick with quiet diplomacy in order to get Jews out of the Soviet Union.
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, responded to the op-ed piece in a statement issued Sunday.
"It is a shame that it took two weeks and the Jewish public’s expression of shock and moral indignation for Henry Kissinger to at last apologize for his grotesque comments," Steinberg stated. "As a result of this sad episode, for many of us, our view of Dr. Kissinger will never be the same."