Just Above Sunset Archives

February 23, 2004: New information that will have some impact on the upcoming election...

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)

James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal's daily "Best of the Web" column almost always refers to John Kerry as "the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat, who, by the way, also served in Vietnam."  Taranto knows this "French" hit is the kiss of death.


To make matters worse, Heather Stimmler-Hall in her Secrets of Paris Newsletter gives in more damning facts:


Much has been made in certain (anti-Democrat, anti-French) circles about John Kerry "hiding" the fact that he's French.  Well, he's actually not French at all, but he does have relatives over here, and in politics, too!  Kerry's mother's sister (his aunt) moved to France and married a Frenchman.  Their son, Brice Lalonde (Kerry's cousin, if you're not following) is the mayor of a tiny town on the Brittany Coast.  Et voila.  Of course, the French can't help but like an American presidential candidate who has not only traveled abroad, but also speaks their language fluently.


Of course, being liked by the French is a real liability.


But now we learn the REAL problem.


The guy seems to be sort of a Czech Jew.  Oh no!


Disclaimer.  My mother's side of the family is Czech.  Her family came from Prague.  My father's side is Slovak, and rural - from the fields and forests of Bohemia, so to speak.  I note this wire item below.  Perhaps I should vote for John Kerry, as an "it's in my blood" sort of thing.  We shall see. 

Note: Czech Town Mesmerized by Kerry Campaign
Revelations of John Kerry's Czech Roots Mesmerize the Town of Horni Benesov, Population 2,400

Here's the scoop:


HORNI BENESOV, Czech Republic Feb.  16 - American presidential politics don't normally cause much of a stir in this far-flung corner of the Czech Republic.  But revelations that John Kerry's grandfather was born here have mesmerized the mountain town. 

Suddenly, Horni Benesov's 2,400 people can't get enough of the Democratic front-runner's quest for the White House or his Czech ancestor, an ethnic German Jew who fled rising anti-Semitism for America's shores at the turn of the last century. 

If the Massachusetts senator clinches his party's nomination, Mayor Josef Klech is ready to offer Kerry a more obscure post - honorary citizen of this former mining town in the northeastern Czech Republic's Jeseniky mountains. 

"We're keeping our fingers crossed for him," Klech said. 


Of course.  If Arnold Shwarzenegger can have his Austrian fans, so Kerry can have his Czech mates. 

This whole thing is, curiously, the product of busybodies in Boston, a town where genealogists can, one supposes, actually make a living.  Out here in Hollywood we have anti-genealogy, as here one loses one's past, where Archie Leach becomes Cary Grant, and Norma Rae becomes Marylyn. 

Here's what happened in Boston. 


Word of Kerry's Czech connection first surfaced last year, when an Austrian genealogist hired by The Boston Globe discovered that the candidate's paternal grandfather, Frederick A. Kerry, was born in Horni Benesov as Fritz Kohn in 1873. 

The news reportedly astonished Kerry, a Catholic, and it sent a thrill through the town 175 miles east of Prague, whose history dates to 1253.  Two townsfolk thought the tale so fantastic, they accused the mayor of making it up. 

"We were taken by surprise," Klech said.  "Who could expect that?"


Yep.  Who could? Particularly since this town isn't that much different from Hollywood in forgetting its past.  It seems now there is nothing left in the town even to suggest Jews ever lived there: no synagogue, no traces of Jewish tombstones.  Nazi work?  Perhaps just no one thinking much about the past. 

But here are the Kerry details:


Fritz Kohn, a son of Benedikt Kohn and his wife, Mathilde, once worked in the local brewery.  Czech government archives reveal that Fritz Kohn changed his name to Frederick Kerry on March 17, 1902, and emigrated to the United States three years later. 

Tomas Jelinek, the leader of Prague's Jewish community, said many Jews left for the United States at the time to seek a better life and to escape anti-Semitism. 

Kerry first settled in Chicago before moving to Boston, where his wife, Ida, gave birth to John Kerry's father, Richard, in 1915.  Frederick Kerry, apparently despondent over mounting debts, shot himself in the head in Boston's Copley Plaza Hotel in 1921 and died. 


Well, let's see.  The family worked in breweries.  Good sign?

No.  The fellow who left the old world couldn't make it in the new world, at least financially, and blew his brains out.  Yep, fodder for Karl Rove and the Christian-Right Bush team to attack the man.  Lots of stuff to use - something to do with alcohol in the family (Bush gave it up long ago when he found Jesus), and financial failure (shows the family didn't have the right positive attitude for success), and a suicide (could Hillary Clinton be somehow involved as she was with her murder of Vince Foster that a bunch of leftist doctors tried to cover up?).  Yep.  Juicy stiff, and typical eastern liberal Jewish evil.  Expect this all to come up sometime in the next months. 

But back in the Old Country?


The Kohn family house is gone, and the remains of the brewery are now a public sauna.  But the people of Horni Benesov are closely following Kerry's progress. 

"We are grateful for him," said Eva Bambuskova, 55, a music teacher.  "All this is good for our town."


Don't be so sure.  Matt Drudge is on the way. 

And here's the place now:

At the end of the 19th century, Horni Benesov was a lively mining town and textile industry center in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Its mines yielded gold and silver, then later zinc and lead as the precious metals petered out.  

... The last mine closed in 1992, and joblessness here is 16 percent.  Klech, the mayor, hopes his town could become a gateway for tourists to nearby ski resorts and that perhaps a Kerry connection could help. 

"We'll certainly invite him," he said.  "But of course it's up to him to decide whether he wants to see a place where his ancestors used to live. "

Bambuskova, the music teacher, said she'll be happy to have him as an honorary citizen. 

"Why not?  He's got his roots here, and we should let other people know about it," she said. 

"His case shows that someone whose family came from a small town like this can have a chance to become president. "

Well, the Republicans will see about THAT!

Everyone knows Bush grew up on the family ranch, wrestling cattle to the ground, quickly tying their legs and branding them with a hot iron, when he wasn't drilling for oil with his pappy and Uncle Dick.  Never went to any school but grew up to be president anyway, in spite of his humble "ah shucks" background.  May or may not have flow jet airplanes in defense of the nation (some dispute there). 

And the man of central European Jewish heritage, now a Catholic from "Gay Marriage Boston," from a family of failures and drunks, is going to compete with the cowboy?

Should be interesting to see how the Bush campaign spins this one. 




A minor item to tie the Czechs back to the French?  Milan Kundera, the most famous of modern Czech writers (you recall "The Unbearable Lightness of Being") has lived in Paris for more than a decade now, and writes in French these days, not in Czech.  This would make my bitter, hyper-intellectual late uncle, my mother's brother, smile.  His name was Milan too.


None of this helps John Kerry.