Madeleine Albright
broke a glass ceiling when she became the first woman U.S. Secretary of
State on January 23, 1997. A few weeks later, at age 59, Madeleine
learned that her parents, Josef and Anna (nee Spegelova) Korbelov, were
Jews who converted to Catholicism in 1941, and lived and raised their
family in the Catholic tradition. They never spoke of their Jewishness. 

Born on May 15, 1937 as Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Secretary Albright‘s
family moved to Great Britain in March, 1939, ten days after the Nazis
invaded their home country. After World War II, the Korbel famly moved
to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Josef, her father, served as the Czech
ambassador to Yugoslavia. In order to avoid communist indoctrination in
Belgrade, Marie was sent to finishing school in Chexbres, Switzerland,
where she changed her name to Madeleine. On November 11, 1948, the
Korbel family arrived in the United States, where Josef assumed a
position with the recently-established United Nations. The Korbels then
moved to Denver, CO, when Josef became a political science professor at
the University of Denver, CO. (Among his students there was future
second female U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.)

After attending Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, on a full scholarship, Madeleine married Joseph Albright
and balanced caring for her growing family and attending Columbia
University, in New York City, where she received her doctorate in 1975.
Prior to serving as Secretary of State, Madeleine taught in various
universities, served on the National Security Council, and became the
United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

Although Secretary Albright
began to hear rumors of alleged Jewishness for years, she definitively
became aware of her Jewish heritage when Washington Post reporters
researched her background soon after she was nominated as Secretary of
State. The shocking news also revealed that over a dozen relatives,
including three grandparents, an uncle, an aunt and a cousin, died in
Auschwitz and Terezin. The Washington Post research included Josef
Korbel’s birth certificate, found in the Czech Foreign Ministry
archives, in which he was identified as Jewish. Ironically, the first
mention of Madeleine’s alleged Jewish roots, came in Arab newspapers
citing anonymous sources. They used Madeleine’s “Jewishness” as a basis
to attack her nomination as Secretary of State. Years later, Secretary Albright returned to Prague and wrote extensively about these revelations in her 2012 book, “Prague Winter.”

Secretary Albright became Episcopalian upon her marriage in 1959, decades before learning about her Jewish heritage. One of Secretary Albright‘s
daughters, who considered herself Episcopalian until the 1997
revelations, married a Jewish man, and is raising Jewish children.

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