Former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt revealed his Jewish origins to Valery Giscard d’Estaing during a 1980 visit by the then French president, Giscard d’Estaing reveals in a book to be published next week.
Quoting Schmidt, he writes: “You will be the only one to know it apart from my wife and my closest collaborator . . . My father is Jewish.”
The revelation took place in a car driving the two Western European leaders--close friends for several years--to Bonn, Giscard d’Estaing writes in his book “Power and Life.”
Although Schmidt’s Jewish origins have been indicated before, Giscard d’Estaing said he had sought Schmidt’s permission before publishing details of the conversation that took place after the chancellor’s sudden revelation.
“I was stupefied . . . Helmut, chancellor of this West Germany that was still expiating its war crimes and the Holocaust, the best-known German politician in the world. Born of a Jewish father,” Giscard d’Estaing writes.
Schmidt explained that his father, a teacher, lived in terror during World War II of his origins being discovered by the Nazis. His father was the illegitimate son of a rich Jewish banker adopted by a family named Schmidt.
“I thought for a long time they were my grandparents,” Schmidt told him.
Schmidt explained that he and his father agreed to falsify their identity papers during the war, when Helmut was in the army.
In 1981 Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stirred a fracas by accusing Schmidt of “unbridled greed and avarice” in World War II for serving in Adolf Hitler’s army. In 1982, Begin demanded that Schmidt “go down on his knees” to ask forgiveness for German war crimes.
Giscard d’Estaing writes that Schmidt’s revelation of his Jewish origins had no effect on him personally: “But the true meaning lies in . . . German history.
“To think that 30 years after the Holocaust, chance or predetermination placed two leaders of Jewish origin at the head of the two German states, Helmut Schmidt and Bruno Kreisky.” Kreisky, former Austrian chancellor, was also Jewish.