Mitchell Reports | April 24, 2012
>> about madeleine albright , a path break, one of the best known women in the world, first to serve as secretary of state , when mad len al bright became the highest ranging woman in bill clinton 's cabinet she discovered her identity buried in the moral complexity of the holocaust. now the best selling author has a new book that came out today, exploring her family roots within the context of one of the darkest chapters in world history . "prague winter" and i was able to sit down with allbright to talk about it.
>> what motivated me was that i needed to go back and figure out my family story and really search for questions about identity. then also to look at what i think is a very important period of history, 1937 to 1948 , and so many things that happened at that time are still affecting our lives today in some form or another. and then i also wanted to examine what it was like for people to make some very, very difficult decisions, personal decisions and decisions by leaders that affected a lot of people's lives.
>> what did you learn about your roots, because i remember covering you, you were a very public figure, you had been active in public life , at the white house in campaigns, for decades. you became secretary of state and then you first learned that you were not as you had thought raised roman catholic , became an episcopal onin later life. you learned about your own family and the hollow cast .
>> i begin the book by saying, i was 59 and i learned a lot about my own identity and also about czechoslovakia . and what i did learn is that, my family, both sides, were of jewish origin, they had -- were the ones that actually, my parents were baptized, so i was i, but basically the very large numbers of my family that died in consecentration camps. as it turns out, 25 members of my family on the maternal and paternal side died in concentration camps , and it was a horrible story, in terms of learning that people were exterminated for just who they thought the people thought they were, not anything that they'd ever done and the tragedy of that story.
>> and the emotions, when you went back, you went to the camp, terezin , as secretary of state , public senior, you went with the hero, liberated czechoslovakia , became the czech republic what are emotions going back to the place where so many ancestors had been buried?
>> i've had so many different emotions about the czechoslovakia and the czech republic and going back and dpig out what would have happened if my parents never came to america. terezin , i went the first time i was secretary of state in '97, and then i went back a year ago, terezin was set up as a spa, as a village, and it's two parts. one is the camp and the other is the prison, and it's very quiet. and then all you can do is imagine the horrors that took place. they'd take you to the crematoryium and take you to the railroad station where people came in and show you a school that the children went to that looks like a normal place, and a great square where people had parades that were all set up. so it's a very weird place, and it's very, very quiet. and it's scary and creepy, and all i could do is visualize my family that was there and all of the other people.
>> tell us about the train that rescued children from czechoslovakia and brought them to england .
>> my cousin is the one that went on the train. she was -- her parents -- and this is one of the things i talk about, the difficulty of decisions, is that she had a little sister and at the last minute, her parents decided not to send the little sister along with her to england , in order they thought, to protect her, and then as it turns out the little sister and her mother, my aunt, and her husband, uncle, all died in concentration camps . and the cousin who was with us in england , obviously survived. and so the horror of the decision making process , how you -- she was just a little girl , she was 7, and her older sister was 11 and he didn't want to part with her and that ultimately was a death sentence.
>> what about the decisions that your parents made, not to explain your family history ? how do you come to understand that?
>> well, i can speculate about it. i obviously don't know the answer. i think that what happened is, we came to america in 1948 , after the communists had taken over czechoslovakia , they had actually been exiled twice, once by the nazis and again by the communists, and i think they wanted a new life. they had suffered terribly. i found a novel that my father had written, which i didn't -- hadn't known about, in which he really talks about not having any words to describe what happened. i think my parents were very like all parents, very protective. and i think that they just wanted to put it behind them.
>> now you've been so active, a leader for women , and you were the first woman secretary of state , now we've had three women secretaries of state , memberbly at women in the world conference , you were asked about why there aren't more women in power, women in politics , women in government, and you responded.
>> well, i think men, is what i said. i think that there is a sense that women would have all of the good -- it's hard to figure out what it is, whether it's jealousy or fear, and partially the excuse that people make is that they're not enough qualified women , to which i uttered an ex-plaive, but basically i think that it's an excuse. there are obviously very important and powerful women , and women in the chain that are ready to have a high-level national security job or be ceos. and i think that any society that doesn't use the resources of its women and we are 50% of most populations in the world are actually impoverishing themselves in terms of women 's economic and political abilities.
>> hillary clinton , there's a lot of speculation about her future, clearly she has years to decide what she wanted to do. but there's a lot of excitement about the possibility of her running in 2016 .
>> i have no idea what she's going to do. i think she's been a fabulous secretary of state . and has represented us brilliantly and has been so focussed and smart. i think she'll do whatever she wants to do in terms of continuing to do public service in some form or another. she's obviously a really good friend and i think that we have to see.
>> you know, your experiences in central and eastern europe and with the former soviet union and of course with the holocaust, all of those experiences shaped your world view and there were moments with boddia, when you were in the cabinet, you went in as ambassador before secretary of state , frustrated at the reluctance of some of the men, colin powell , you're both writ been this, what have you learned that would influence decision making now about syria and the slaughter, even though we're reluctant to get involved in the opposition is disorganized? when you look at slaughter slaughter that is going on, what are our options?
>> i think that there are obviously lessons about standing up to evil and not appeasing and a variety of issues that one learns from world war ii . but this is a very different situation. i think that each country is different. what we have learned, i think, and that comes, i would say, from my own experience in the balkans is that it is very important to get international support for what happens. and i think that what we're seeing is president obama and secretary clinton gathering that international support in terms of using every tool that we have and tightening the screws on syria. secretary clinton has been talking more and more about, again, going back to the united nations and making sure that the sanctions regime is very tightly wound. and that we have international support. but that we need to assess what is going on and realize that we can't just stand by. that there has to be a variety of ways of dealing with it.
>> madeleine albright , the book is "proud winter." it is such an unusual exploration of a period, a time, the heart of the holocaust. your own family. memoir and history combined. thank you very much.
>> thank you. and i hope that people learn a lot from it. i tried very hard to do a little teaching in it.
>> and succeeded.