Albright traces family’s roots on quiet visit to Czech Republic


PRAGUE, Sept. 2 (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has secretly returned to her roots.

Albright spent several days in the Czech Republic this week for a private visit in which she visited at least one Jewish site and some of the towns that her relatives once inhabited. Raised as a Roman Catholic — she later became an Episcopalian — Albright said she first learned she had Jewish ancestors when it was reported in the Washington Post last February.

On Sunday, Albright visited Terezin accompanied by her sister, her two daughters and their husbands. Terezin, known in German as Theresienstadt, is an 18th-century fortress town that was used by the Nazis during World War II as a transit camp for Jews on their way to concentration camps further East. More than a dozen of her relatives died in the camps.

On Monday, Albright traveled to Letohrad, a small town in eastern Bohemia where her father’s family once co-owned a factory that manufactured matches. There, she met with the town historian and with two people who knew her father, Josef Korbel, including one of his childhood friends.

In 1994, when Albright was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Koloc prompted town officials to send Albright a letter informing her of her roots in Letohrad. Albright did not respond to that or other attempts by the town to communicate with her.

“This was her first visit to Letohrad,” said Vladimir Tomek, deputy mayor of the town. “We were surprised by the brilliant Czech she spoke. I think she liked it here, and that she left happy.”

Albright, whose family fled Czechoslovakia twice, once in 1938 to escape the Nazis, and then to the United States in 1948 after a Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, also visited her mother’s hometown of Kostelec.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy would not disclose any additional details of Albright’s visit. During a state visit here earlier this summer, Albright was taken on a tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter by leaders of the Czech Jewish community.

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