When Kerry Was Kohn: The Jewish Roots of John Kerry

The new nominee for secretary of state only found out about his Jewish grandfather while running in the 2004 presidential election.

Dina Kraft
Dina Kraft
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Dina Kraft
Dina Kraft

BOSTON – Senator John Kerry, with his mother’s New England patrician pedigree and his Irish last name actually has a grandfather who was born a Jew in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The news was a revelation to Kerry himself, who only found out about his Jewish roots while running in the 2004 presidential election.

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 is a long-time U.S. Senator representing Massachusetts, who was nominated Friday by President Barack Obama as his next secretary of state.

Kerry, if confirmed in the position, will not be the first U.S. Secretary of State to have discovered a Jewish family past later in life.

In 1997 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was born in Prague, learned three of her four grandparents were Jewish.

In more immediate Jewish family ties, 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 1994 as his brother campaigned for president, Cameron Kerry, known as Cam, traveled to Israel for the first time on what was termed a “private visit” that was arranged by a branch of AIPAC. Accompanying him on that trip was Kerry’s top advisor on Mideast and Jewish affairs.

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.

Kerry, left, with Shimon Peres at the President's home in July 2012.Credit: GPO
Obama with Kerry at the White House after his nomination as secretary of state. Credit: AP

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