Madeleine K. Albright, a child of Czech refugees who fled from Nazi invaders and Communist oppressors and then landed in the United States, where she flourished as a diplomat and the first woman to serve as secretary of state, Was born May15, 1937
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Marie Jana Korbel was the daughter of a Czech diplomat. After the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, her family fled to England. Although she spent most of her life believing that they had fled for political reasons, she learned in 1997 that her family was Jewish and that three of her grandparents had died in German concentration camps. The family returned to Czechoslovakia after World War II, but the Soviet-sponsored communist coup made them refugees again, and by 1948 they had settled in the United States.
It was not until after she became secretary of state that she accepted proof that, as she had long suspected, her ethnic and religious background was not what she had thought. She learned that her family was Jewish and that her parents had protectively converted to Roman Catholicism during World War II, raising their children as Catholics without telling them of their Jewish heritage. She also discovered that 26 family members, including three grandparents, had been murdered in the Holocaust.
Still, her performance as secretary of state won high marks from career diplomats abroad and ordinary Americans at home. Admirers said she had a star quality, radiating practicality, versatility and a refreshingly cosmopolitan flair. She spoke Czech, Polish, French and Russian.
She was a diminutive presence with an assured style: impeccably tailored and perfectly coifed, with touches of gold or pearl in her brooches, an amused smile for the cognoscenti and eyes that missed nothing. In meetings with foreign diplomats, colleagues said, she was firm but flexible, prepared to move beyond her talking points and to engage her counterparts in frank oval-table bargaining.
SOURCE: Encylop Britannia and Thr New York Times