BOOK REVIEW: The Kissinger Saga: Walter and Henry Kissinger – two brothers from Fürth, GermanyBy Evi Kurz
THE AUTHOR is a broadcast journalist from Fürth, the Bavarian town where Henry Kissinger (then called Heinz) and his brother Walter were born and lived until 1938. For such a publicity-seeker, Kissinger has managed to keep his childhood fairly private. However, Evi finally prevailed upon Henry and Walter to talk about their childhood for a TV programme. This book of the TV broadcast is very informative.
The Kissinger boys were the sons of Louis (a schoolteacher) and Paula, both “profoundly religious” orthodox Jews. Heinz Alfred came into the world in May 1923, his brother 13 months later. The family were fairly well-to-do; the boys had piano lessons; trips to the theatre and the opera were frequent. With a teacher for a father, the family had no radio, all the better to encourage reading.
Heinz was “only an average pupil” but he read widely. Both boys were sporty, Heinz, not strong but fast, preferred football. Forty years later, when secretary of state, he continued to follow German football, courtesy of the German ambassador who fed him the results.
If it was left to Louis, they would never have left Germany. Although, as a teacher, he was not conscripted in World War I, he prized his German citizenship and he spoke no foreign languages. Paula was more of a realist. She had some English and she improved it. She wrote to a cousin in the US, whom she had never met, and asked her if she would take in the boys. The cousin wrote back urging the whole family to emigrate and signed the essential Affidavit of Support.
Citizenship was taken out and when the country found itself in the second World War, following Pearl Harbour, both were drafted. Henry went to Europe and eventually into Germany. Because he had the language, he ended up a sergeant in counter-intelligence. Walter fought the Japanese, survived Okinawa and finished up as a captain. Henry went into academia, married Anneliese, a Jew, and fathered two sons. The marriage lasted 13 years. He then married Nancy Maginnes in 1974, they honeymooned in Acapulco with Walter and his wife.
Walter joined the State Department but left in disgust when the McCarthy witch-hunts began. He obtained an MBA from Harvard and went into business with considerable success. He, to his parents’ horror, married Genie, a Protestant (“secretly and alone”) and remains happily married to this day.
Henry climbed the career ladder with great determination. He travelled widely and wrote profusely. An article in Foreign Affairs in 1955 took issue with the accepted notion that nuclear war would mean massive annihilation and argued that nuclear wars could be local and limited. He got hired as a part-time adviser by Nelson Rockefeller who had Oval Office ambitions. In 1969 Richard Nixon brought him to the White House as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State thereafter.
The author is a fan. “Henry’s achievements . . . at the centre of power are beyond dispute.” Well, not everyone would agree, especially Richard Nixon who fumed when Henry tried to grab the credit for the president’s policies – if they were successful. Would Henry have risen as high without Nixon? Not a chance. Gerald Ford stripped half his power away. Reagan offered him nothing. Henry invented shuttle diplomacy and worked tirelessly. He also, however, backed juntas in South America that engaged in ruthless suppression but which promised to support US foreign policy. Henry now has to be careful where he travels to because, as Pinochet found out, he risks arrest for crimes against humanity.
The Kissinger Saga: Walter and Henry Kissinger – two brothers from Fürth, GermanyBy Evi Kurz Weidenfeld Nicolson 229pp, £18.99
Eoin McVey is a managing editor with
The Irish Times