Eighteen years ago, Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State. She changed women’s roles in American politics and influenced some of the world’s greatest leaders. Being Ambassador to the United Nations and winning the Presidential Medal of Honor are just pieces of her story. For most of Albright’s childhood she was in danger. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she learned the truth of her early years and family.
Her role in American politics and accomplishments make me admire her, but her experience and desire to find truth in her past make her stand out. Though I am far removed from my Czech ancestry and have grown up in a modern age, I feel that the desire to know about who you are and where you come from is important. This knowledge can change you.
Here’s a brief biography of Madeleine Albright:
Marie Jana Korbel was born in Prague in 1937 during the first decade of Czechoslovak independence. Her father worked with the new government under Presidents Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Benes. Marie or “Madlenka” spent much of her early childhood in exile between England and Yugoslavia. In 1948 during the rise of communism, her family left for America, seeking political asylum. She spent her teenage years in Denver where her father taught at the university.
Albright studied foreign relations and Central European politics while at school and has had an incredible career as an American politician. Vaclav Havel even encouraged her to run for the Czech presidency and be his successor. She declined because she she hadn’t lived in the Czech Republic for over 50 years. After her time in office, Albright learned that her childhood was not what she thought or remembered. Her family had not only been political refugees because of her father’s work, but they narrowly escaped the concentration camps. The news of her Jewish ancestry drove her to find the truth of her past.
I encourage you to read her book: Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948. It has given me a fresh look at the history and experiences of the Czech people during their struggle for freedom. There are a lot of questions about WWII and Czechoslovakia’s role in it. I can’t help but feel the country’s helplessness. There are so many different outcomes that could have been if another decision had been made or another person was made leader. The Czech people have persevered though centuries of having their rights taken away, but in a modern world it is easy to take those rights for granted. We don’t expect that such brutality and disregard for people’s rights still exist.
What are your thoughts about Czechoslovakia’s role in WWII? Do you think Benes had any choice? Was he bullied into making hard decisions or was his lack of action the downfall of Prague? If Masaryk had still been alive would the outcome be different? What about Chamberlain vs. Churchill in England? Could a war have been prevented, or would Hitler have still found a way to conquer much of Central and Western Europe? Could concentration camps and mass genocide have been prevented? I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer because we cannot change history, but it is hard not to ask what if?