When Kerry learned his grandfather was Jewish


Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Obama’s nominee for Secretary of State, learned during his 2004 presidential run that his paternal grandfather was Jewish, born Fritz Kohn, in what is now the Czech Republic, Dina Kraft recounts at Haaretz Friday:

His paternal grandfather Frederick A. Kerry, was born Fritz Kohn in a town in what today is the Czech Republic before changing his name ahead of his immigration to the United States a century ago. […]

Kerry’s brother Cameron converted to Judaism after marrying Kathy Weinman, a Jewish woman and fellow lawyer he met on the job at a Washington law firm.

In [2004] as his brother campaigned for president, Cameron Kerry, known as Cam, traveled to Israel for the first time […] During the visit he recalled finding out about his family’s Jewish roots and calling up his in-laws to tell them the news.

“I called up Kathy’s parents and said ‘I’m Jewish,’ and they said, ‘Yeah we know’ and I said, ‘No, I’m really Jewish,'” he said in an interview with JTA at the time.

Reform Judaism magazine, writing in the fall of 2003, said Kerry in fact learned in the 1980s from a relative that his paternal grandmother, Ida, a practicing Catholic, was born Jewish. But it wasn’t until more than a decade later that he learned more about his grandfather’s story:

The story begins in the hamlet of Horni Benesov on the tenth of May 1873–the day Benedikt and Mathilde Kohn had a son they named Fritz. Like his father, Fritz became a simple brewer. Yet it was difficult for him to succeed in an area dominated by German-speaking Catholics. Many Jews hid their religious identity, posing as Gentiles. […]

On March 17, 1902, shortly before his 30th birthday, Fritz took his wife Ida and infant son Erich to a government office in Vienna and changed their family name. Fritz Kohn would henceforth be known as Frederick Kerry. The Kerry family settled for three years in Austria before embarking on the steamship Konigen Luise in Genoa, Italy on May 4, 1905, bound for America. […]

The Kerrys settled in Chicago, where Frederick quickly set out to stake his claim in the American dream. […] . There, in 1915, Ida gave birth to their third child, Richard, the future father of Senator John Kerry. […]

Frederick Kerry’s American dream ended mysteriously on November 21, 1921 at the age of 48. According to front-page news reports, the now virtually bankrupt husband and father of three walked into the lobby washroom of Boston’s posh Copley Plaza Hotel, put a loaded revolver to his head, and pulled the trigger. He left behind $25 in cash, $200 in stocks, and a Cadillac…

It was not until the late 1990s, when John’s father Richard was suffering from cancer, that he finally disclosed to John that his grandfather had shot himself to death. […] Richard Kerry died in 2000. He never revealed that his father had been a Jew. Born in the United States and only 5 years old when Frederick died, it is likely that Richard did not know of his grandfather’s hidden past.