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Diplomat Henry Kissinger was U.S. secretary of state under Richard Nixon, winning the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for the Vietnam War accords.
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Born on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, Germany, Henry Kissinger became a Harvard professor before assuming leadership in U.S. foreign policy. He was appointed secretary of state in 1973 by President Richard Nixon and co-won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Vietnam War's Paris accords. He was later critiqued for some of his covert actions at home and abroad. Kissinger is also a prolific author.
Henry Kissinger was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, a city in the Bavaria region of Germany. Kissinger's mother, Paula Stern, came from a relatively wealthy and prominent family, and his father, Louis Kissinger, was a teacher. Kissinger grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, and during his youth he spent two hours each day diligently studying the Bible and the Talmud. The interwar Germany of Kissinger's youth was still reeling from its defeat in World War I and the humiliating and debilitating terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Such national emasculation gave rise to the intense German nationalism of Nazism, in which many Germans increasingly treated Germany's Jewish population as outsiders and scapegoats for their misfortunes.
As a child, Kissinger encountered anti-Semitism daily. An avid soccer fan, he defied laws banning Jews from professional sporting events to attend matches, receiving several beatings at the hands of the stadium guards. He and his friends were also regularly abused by local gangs of Nazi youth. These experiences understandably made a lasting impression on Kissinger. One of his childhood friends said, "You can't grow up like we did and be untouched. Every day there were slurs in the streets, anti-Semitic remarks, calling you filthy names."
Kissinger was a shy, introverted and bookish child. "He withdrew," his mother remembered. "Sometimes he wasn't outgoing enough, because he was lost in his books." Kissinger excelled at the local Jewish school and dreamed of attending the Gymnasium, a prestigious state-run high school. However, by the time he was old enough to apply, the school had stopped accepting Jews. Sensing the impending tragedy of the Holocaust, his family decided to flee Germany for United States in 1938, when Kissinger was 15 years old.
On August 20, 1938, the Kissingers set sail for New York City by way of London. His family was extremely poor upon arrival in the United States, and Kissinger immediately went to work in a shaving brush factory to supplement his family's income. At the same time, Kissinger enrolled at New York's George Washington High School, where he learned English with remarkable speed and excelled in all of his classes. One of his teachers later recalled of Kissinger, "He was the most serious and mature of the German refugee students, and I think those students were more serious than our own." Kissinger graduated from high school in 1940 and continued on to the City College of New York, where he studied to become an accountant.
In 1943, Kissinger became a naturalized American citizen and, soon after, he was drafted into the army to fight in World War II. Thus, just five years after he left, Kissinger found himself back in his homeland of Germany, fighting the very Nazi regime from which he had once fled.
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