Who can cut through Henry Kissinger’s thick Germanic accent? Maybe that’s one reason Richard Nixon tape recorded in the Oval Office — so he could take time later to decipher his secretary of state’s remarks.
Even Barbara Walters was baffled. When she was on NBC’s Today show, the first interview she did outside the studio was Kissinger, the national security advisor at the time.
“He had a very strong accent and I sometimes had him repeat what he was saying,” she related at a World Jewish Congress dinner on November 11, at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Walters said she asked Kissinger, newly installed at the White House, “So how does it feel to be a new kind of sex symbol in Washington?”
“I love it,” Kissinger replied. “Now when I bore people, they think it’s their fault.”
That cracked up the high profilers in the grand ballroom, which included Leonard Lauder; Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman; Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert; Ralph Lauren and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor who brought his son, Lior, and Lior’s wife Maya, who was seven months pregnant.
Walters once asked Kissinger’s younger brother, Walter Kissinger, why he never had an accent like Henry. “Because I listened,” he said.
Even Kissinger had trouble with one’s speech. Not his own, of course. “When Yitzhak Rabin was ambassador in Washington,” he recalled, “I thought he was a terrible speaker. He mumbled all the time.”
Born in 1923 in Furth, Bavaria, Kissinger has been in America since 1938 after fleeing Nazi persecution. He’s been here 76 years and still speaks like he stepped off the boat yesterday.
WJC president Ronald Lauder bestowed the group’s Theodor Herzl Award on Kissinger. Lauder said that President Nixon once mentioned to Prime Minister Golda Meir how remarkable it was that both the United States and Israel had Jewish foreign ministers, Abba Eban and Kissinger.
“Yes,” Golda said. “But ours speaks English.”
Lauder, New York-born 70 years ago, speaks flawless English like the diplomat he is (having served as U.S. ambassador to Austria 1986-87). Now he engages in diplomacy for world Jewry.
He maintains that just as every country in the world has a foreign ministry to represent them around the world, the World Jewish Congress is “the foreign ministry, the diplomatic arm, of the Jewish people throughout the diaspora.”
Tim Boxer was a columnist at the New York Post for two decades. He has been writing a column for The New York Jewish Week for 35 years, and has been editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com for 16 years. He is the author of Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame, interviews of Hollywood stars about their Jewish roots.