Kurt's Historic Sites

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright

Interment Location Visited  
Washington, D.C. April 6, 2024  

Photographed April 6, 2024.

Thomas Jefferson was appointed to be the first U.S. secretary of state in 1789, and it took another 207 years and 41 presidential administrations before a woman was nominated for that most senior cabinet post. Madeleine Albright, a Prague-born political scientist with a doctorate from Columbia University and four years’ experience as ambassador to the United Nations, was the person President Bill Clinton trusted to carry on the mantle of secretary of state for his second term. Clinton announced Albright’s nomination in December 1996 and she was confirmed by the Senate the following month by a vote of 99-0. Albright, the highest-ranking woman in a twentieth-century presidential administration, is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Albright was an active and vocal advocate for the policies of interventionism and liberal internationalism championed by President Clinton. “Rather than feeling it is wrong to interfere,” she said in a 60 Minutes interview in 1997, “I always believe that if you can stop something early, and you can show the support of free countries for those who are under totalitarianism, then it’s worth doing.” Albright favored “assertive multilateralism, where countries of the United Nations would jointly take action to thwart rising autocracies. “When it came to the need to protect people from dictators and genocidal wars, Albright was the conscience of the Clinton administration,” said Ivo Daalder, a Clinton-era National Security Council member. That view was not universally held, though. During a different 60 Minutes interview in 1996, when she was still the ambassador to the U.N., Albright was asked by journalist Leslie Stahl whether sanctions imposed upon Iraq, which contributed to the starvation deaths of many thousands of children, were worth the price of trying to depose dictator Saddam Hussein. “I think this is a very hard choice,” Albright replied, “but the price — we think the price is worth it.” Video clips of that interview were reposted online in the wake of Albright’s death in 2022, and fresh condemnation emerged in various op-eds and internet comments. Mainstream U.S. news outlets largely omitted Albright’s views on Iraq sanctions from their obituaries and focused on her barrier-breaking and efforts to build coalitions.

Photographed April 6, 2024.
Photographed April 6, 2024.

Albright’s ethnic heritage was unknown to her for most of her life. It was not until 1997 that, because of a Washington Post investigation, she learned she was Jewish — that her parents, Mandula and Josef Korbel, converted to Roman Catholicism to escape the wrath of growing European antisemitism. Of her grandparents, Albright explained, “My parents simply said they had died `in the course of the war.'” What she did not know was the more precise truth that three of her grandparents died in Nazi concentration camps. Other relatives — uncles, aunts, a cousin — were also killed in the Holocaust. The Korbels headed to London in 1939, fleeing Prague days after the Nazis annexed the region in March 1939, and thereby avoided the horrible fate that befell their relatives. Madeleine Korbel was not yet two years old when she and her parents left Czechoslovakia, and she did not return until age eight, when the war was over. “Presented with research undertaken for this article about her family history,” the Post wrote, “she says she finds the new information ‘compelling,’ but adds, ‘I have to look into this myself . . . It’s a very personal matter.'” When the Korbels fled Prague again in 1948, this time due to a communist-led coup d’etat supported by the Soviet Union, they settled in the United States. The Post wrote, “[l]ike many other first-generation Americans,” the Korbels “apparently turned the page on the pre-America chapter of their lives when they set foot in the United States. Albright does not question their choices. ‘My parents were fabulous people who did everything they could for their children and brought us to this amazing country and were protective, overly so in terms of worrying about us and all kinds of things. I can’t question their motivation. I can’t. I don’t know how else to put it.'”

Fast Facts

Born: May 15, 1937 in Prague, Czechoslovakia

Spouse: Joseph Albright (m. 1959-1983)

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Served in Cabinet of: Bill Clinton

Cabinet Position: Secretary of State (1997-2001)

Presidential Medal of Freedom: Awarded by Barack Obama (2012)

Died: March 23, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Cause of Death: Cancer

Age: 84

Interment: Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

"I am deeply suspicious of those who offer simple solutions and statements of absolute certainty or who claim full possession of the truth. Yet I have grown equally skeptical of those who suggest that all is too nuanced and complex for us to learn any lessons, that there are so many sides to every thing that we can pursue knowledge every day of our lives and still know nothing for sure. I believe we can recognize truth when we see it, just not at first and not without ever relenting in our efforts to learn more."
- Madeleine Albright
in her 2012 memoir Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

60 Minutes. “Madeleine Albright: The 1997 60 Minutes Interview.” YouTube video, 11:00. March 23, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47aaaFhGtMM.

Al Jazeera. “Madeleine Albright, first woman US secretary of state, dies at 84.” March 23, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/23/madeleine-albright-former-u-s-secretary-of-state-dies-at-84.

Albright, Madeleine. Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948. New York: Harper, 2012.

Albright, Madeleine K. “Resilience of spirit, more than intellect, is the key to life.” Washington Post. March 29, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/29/madeleine-albright-posthumous-oped-life/.

Associated Press. “ABRIGHT CONFIRMED BY SENATE.” Washington Post. January 22, 1997. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1997/01/23/albright-confirmed-by-senate/bdf376f3-ae31-46c9-9aa2-4558d7eb90d0/.

Dobbs, Michael. “Madeleine Albright said she didn’t know she was Jewish until The Post told her.” Washington Post. March 23, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/03/23/madeleine-albright-jewish/.

Kelly, Caroline. “Madeleine Albright, first female US secretary of state, dies.” CNN. March 23, 2022. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/23/politics/madeleine-albright-obituary/.

McFadden, Robert D. “Madeleine Albright, First Woman to Serve as Secretary of State, Dies at 84.” New York Times. March 23, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/us/madeleine-albright-dead.html.

Middle East Eye. “Remembering the legacy of Madeleine Albright in Iraq.” YouTube video, 0:58. March 24, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T5JRVR53Eo.

Norton, Ben. “Forgotten scandal: How the U.S. prevented U.N. action on Rwandan genocide, under Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright.” Salon. May 16, 2016. https://www.salon.com/2016/05/16/forgotten_scandal_how_the_u_s_prevented_u_n_action_on_rwandan_genocide_under_bill_clinton_and_madeleine_albright/.

Otis, John. “Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state, dies at 84.” Washington Post. March 23, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/madeline-albright-dead-/2022/03/23/e527816e-8cf5-11e3-95dd-36ff657a4dae_story.html.

Stojanovic, Dusan. “Balkans split over Madeleine Albright’s wartime legacy.” Associated Press. March 24, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/madeleine-albright-diplomacy-belgrade-serbia-europe-0f3d82c0417f061f48b092812a1bc609.

Twaij, Ahmen. “Let’s remember Madeleine Albright for who she really was.” Al Jazeera. March 25, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2022/3/25/lets-remember-madeleine-albright-as-who-she-really-was.

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