Kissinger: My Family Escaped the Horrors of the Holocaust by ‘Just a Few Months’
Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger told Charlie Rose on Wednesday that his family escaped the worst atrocities of the Holocaust by just “a few months.”
Speaking to the famed broadcaster at the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York, the former secretary of state under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford recounted his early childhood in Germany, shortly before the outbreak of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust.
He began by describing his father’s pride at having a “spectacular” career as a school teacher in a public school, with “a title,” as it was very rare for Jews to hold state jobs in the 1920s and 1930s.
“I had a sort of German Jewish middle class existence until the Nazis came … in ’33. And they began a systematic campaign of segregation, delegitimization, and it was sort of permissible for Hitler youth kids to beat up Jewish kids.”
Kissinger said he was forced to attend a segregated school, and described how there was no hiding for much of German Jewry living in smaller towns and cities, like his family in Kern, or his grandfather in a small village. “It was known who the Jews were,” he said.
“There were signs all over the place: Jews are not desired here … that was de facto segregation. The only time I violated this was to go to football games. I had a great passion for soccer,” he said with some levity.
Kissinger said his mother began to feel increasingly that her children would not have a future in Germany. He said “life had become increasingly unpleasant, but it was not yet violent.”
Ultimately, his mother’s insistence overcame his father’s reluctance to leave and in September 1938, the family left Germany to join Kissinger’s great-uncle in the United States, just a few months before Kristallnacht, in November that year.
“Then, of course, the Holocaust started,” he said.
Kissinger’s fate would eventually lead him back Germany with the U.S. army, where he helped lead denazification efforts.