It was quite moving to hear this admirable woman reading the book she wrote about her family and the events which occurred around the time of her birth. Her parents were from Czechoslovakia and her father was a diplomat when the Sudeten Germans became allied with Hitler.
You may remember the most remarkable part of this story, that it was only when she became well-known in this country during the Clinton administration that she learned her family was Jewish. By that time her parents had died and she was unable to learn more about their reasons. They had left Czechoslovakia before the persecution of Jews began and were in England with the Benes government, eventually recognized as a government in exile.
After she learned of her heritage, she and her siblings visited their parents' homeland and learned how many of her family members had died at the hands of the Nazis. Family members' names are inscribed on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague and pictures made by her young cousin are among those found after the war in Terezin concentration camp. Those pictures and the names on the walls of that synagogue are the most wrenching sights I have ever seen.
Much of the history is familiar, at least vaguely. The story of Hitler's revenge killings for the assassination of Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague, was one I didn't know: because the village of Lidice was suspected of harboring the assassins, Hitler ordered it to be completely obliterated. All inhabitants were murdered and the village razed. This horrifying event revealed Hitler to the West and roused the fury of Czech Americans especially.
Her family went back to Czechoslovakia after the war; her father worked for Jan Masaryk who was foreign minister until 1948 when he was killed presumably by Soviet agents. It was another case of defenestration in Prague — murder for political reasons by throwing a person out of a window is time honored there, beginning in 1419. Almost immediately after Mazaryk was killed, the Communists gained control and her family left the country.
The family was granted political asylum in the US and her father taught at Denver University; his work resulted in the founding of a school eventually named the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. By odd circumstance it turns out that Condoleezza Rice's father was a dean at DU so when Jim was in grad school there, two fathers of women who became Secretaries of State were there.