One of the most influential – and controversial – Jews of the 20th century, Henry Kissinger served as national security adviser and as the first foreign-born secretary of state under presidents Nixon and Ford.
As a proponent of Realpolitik, he played a dominant role in American policy between 1969 and 1977, during which time he pioneered the policy of détente, negotiated rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China, and negotiated the SALT I treaty with the Soviets. He was a complex, brilliant, dedicated diplomat who was also secretive and manipulative. His unique style of “shuttle diplomacy” won the respect of President Ford, who utilized his mediation skills to attempt to bring about peace between Israel and some Arab states.
Kissinger negotiated the Paris Peace Accords, which were to end America’s involvement in Vietnam and though the accords were never actualized – the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the agreement – he won the Nobel Peace Prize (1973), an award that proved controversial, with two members of the Nobel Committee resigning in protest.
He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and presidents and other world leaders continued to seek his advice long after he left office. He also founded and chaired Kissinger Associates, an influential international consulting firm, and is the prolific author of a number of books on politics and international relations.
In the April 6, 1982 correspondence to Paul Keyes (more on him below) exhibited with this article, Kissinger, long removed from the fold of Jewish observance, offers a fascinating insight into his personal perception of his late father, Louis (1887-1982):
I was deeply touched by your memorial gift to my father. He, a good Orthodox Jew but in his heart the most ecumenical of men, would have loved it.
Henry was born in 1923 and raised in Fürth, Bavaria, where he pleased his passionately Orthodox father through dedication to Jewish study and practice, which included mastering Talmud and spending hours a day in advanced Bible study at the Israelitische Realschule.
Henry read his entire Torah portion at his bar mitzvah, and one of his Pirchei Agudah leaders in Germany reported that the young Kissinger submitted a brilliant essay arguing that a Jewish homeland was unthinkable unless predicated on the laws of Torah and Jewish observance.
Heinz (as he was originally named) was 10 when, pursuant to the Nuremberg Laws, his father was suddenly relieved of his teaching duties at an elite all-girls prep school in Germany, a position of some prestige and honor. A kind and gentle soul, Louis never recovered from the indignity he suffered at the hands of the Nazis nor, according to many commentators, did Henry ever recover from witnessing the humiliation of the father he loved and admired.
Though, as we shall see, Kissinger ultimately turned on his father and his people by rejecting all traces of Jewish observance, he remained close to Louis, even after marrying a non-Jew.
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Paul Keyes, the recipient of the letter displayed here, was nominated for ten Emmy awards (he won three, including awards for writing and producing the “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” TV show) and was a most interesting character whose close friendship with Kissinger is not generally recognized.
Also not generally known is the crucial role Keyes played in Nixon’s election as president. After Nixon’s disastrous television appearances, which many say cost him the 1960 presidential election, Keyes worked to redesign Nixon’s television persona, culminating in a September 16, 1968 cameo appearance on “Laugh-In” in which Nixon memorably stated only four fateful words, the well-known “Laugh-In” catchphrase “Sock it to me?”