Biden to Nominate Daughter of German Jew Who Fled Nazis as U.S. Ambassador to Berlin

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 2016.
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 2016.Credit: Mark Makela/ REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Joe Biden will nominate University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. 

Gutmann's father was a German Jew who fled Nazi Germany while in college in 1934, fleeing to Bombay, India and resettling in the U.S. a decade later after meeting his wife while on vacation in New York. 

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"The biggest influences on me for leading preceded my ever even thinking of myself as a leader — particularly my father’s experience leaving Nazi Germany. Because I would not even exist if it weren’t for his combination of courage and farsightedness. He saw what was coming with Hitler, and he took all of his family and left for India.  That took a lot of courage. That is always something in the back of my mind," Gutmann told the New York Times in 2011.

Under her stewardship, the Ivy League university partnered with the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive in 2013, bringing nearly 52,000 video testimonials to UPenn's library system. Her nomination comes days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the German government signed a letter of intent to share information and strategies on advancing Holocaust education and combating antisemitism.

She will be the first woman to ever hold the post, and will be counted on to use her academic expertise in political and democratic philosophy to stabilize U.S.-German relations following the Trump years. Her academic works have largely focused on constitutional democracy, human rights and multiculturalism, and she will bring an undoubtedly different tone to the posting than her predecessor, Richard Grenell.

Grenell, who served from 2018-2020, had been one of Trump's most vocal supporters and drew widespread criticism across the German political spectrum for telling the right-wing Breitbart News website that he wanted to empower conservatives throughout Europe following the "failed policies of the left." 

Charlotte Knoblauch, former World Jewish Congress’s Vice-President and Commissioner for Holocaust Memory, who also served as head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, wrote in Haaretz, that Grenell endangered German Jews and democracy by praising the "resurgence" of Europe’s "anti-establishment" populists, in a country where the virulently antisemitic, populist far-right has returned to parliament.

The ambassadorship has been vacant since Grenell's departure. Trump's chosen replacement for Grenell, Col. Douglas Macgregor, was never confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after Jewish establishment groups condemned past comments of his bigoted, xenophobic and downplaying the Holocaust.

The administration, meanwhile, faces growing pressure to name a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism – the highest-ranking public official in the country tasked with combating anti-Jewish prejudice. The role was elevated to an ambassadorial-level position last December, adding weight to its mission of combating antisemitism at a global level. The prospective envoy will have to be confirmed by the Senate prior to assuming the position.

This story was amended on July 14. 

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