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The Jewish Ambassador Goes to Germany

Today on Tablet

Marc Tracy
December 15, 2010

The piece today in Tablet Magazine by Abigail Pogrebin is actually an excerpt from her book, Stars of David, which features dozens of “prominent Jews talking about being Jewish.” While the late Richard Holbrooke professes uncertainty on the extent to which his Jewishness defined him, he is quite sure that his parents’ related status as refugees was the sine qua non of his ambitions, values, and career.

After President Clinton was elected, Holbrooke expected and hoped to be named ambassador to Japan. Instead, he got Germany.

“I called my mother and I said, ‘I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is I’m not going to Japan; the good news is I’m going to be the American ambassador to Germany.’ And there was this kind of long pause,” he recalls. “She had not set foot in Germany since 1933.” Trudi Kearl escaped Nazi Germany when she was a young girl. “And here I was, 60 years later to the year, going to Germany. I think she was completely stunned. But she ended up visiting me three times.”

Beyond that, he is, endearingly, someone who loves ideas and knows their importance. Was he above all a journalist? “’Hello?’ He starts chatting with someone on the line, deconstructing what sounds like the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. ‘I also thought Les’s piece was very good,’ Holbrooke says. ‘I thought Paula’s defense was pathetic and Judith’s piece was really good. The Milosevic piece said nothing. That was a lost opportunity.’”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.