I’m not generally a big believer in condemning people for the sins of their forefathers or for their family background, provided it’s not too outlandish. However, when it comes to world leaders born of wealth or privilege, it’s worthwhile to pause and evaluate their history. Doing so provides insight into their character, culture and connections, which in turn speaks to their ability to lead and their loyalties.
When you stumble across a sordid history of a leader whose family fortune was made in the China opium trade and who has reinvented their ethnic backstory for the purpose of political favor, then it’s time to throw a red flag and cry foul — and it’s time to throw a flag on U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
John Forbes Kerry throughout his political career portrayed himself as the son of a Boston Brahmin mother and a father, who was a simple Irish Catholic man on the street. This image served him well in Massachusetts politics.
Where the story gets interesting is with Kerry’s grandparents — more specifically, his Brahmin mother’s side, the Forbes family. The history of his maternal great grandfather, Francis Forbes, is largely scrubbed and highly disingenuous. For example, he’s often cited as a “China merchant,” when in actuality he was an opium dealer operating in China. This was the fountainhead of Forbes’ wealth. I have a follow-up article coming on the opium trade, but at one point 30 million Chinese were addicted and the country was a wreck.
The history of Francis Blackwell Forbes (1839–1908), as cited on Wikipedia, states he was an American botanist with “expertise in Chinese seed-producing plants,” who also worked as a merchant and opium trader in Asia. Apart from a two-year stay in Europe in 1875-76, Forbes lived in China from 1857 to 1882. The “Career and Honors” section of his biography states that this criminal received awards for his lifelong work with “poppies.” What a farce.
So Kerry enjoyed certain status and entry into Yale because his father, Richard Kerry, married well. Or maybe, as you will see, it was the other way around. Next let’s look at Kerry’s paternal side. His paternal grandfather was born Fritz Kohn (1873-1921), the son of a Jewish brewmeister in Bennisch, Moravia, which is in the present-day Czech Republic.
Kerry’s paternal grandmother, née Ida Loew, hailed from a very well-known and large Jewish family in Brno, Moravia. The Loew clan are descendants of the famous Kabbalist and Talmudist Rabbi Judah Loew (aka Loewe) (1518-1609), the Maharal of Prague and creator of the Golem. History tells that Rabbi Loew, using sorcerer-like magic, created the monstrous and gigantic Golem from the muddy banks of Prague’s river as a boogeyman to intimidate and scare the heck out of the city’s gentiles. The rabbi’s hoax worked, and this made Loew a highly sought after mystic and black magician. A fascinating figure indeed.
A freakish and rather ridiculous statue of Rabbi Loew stands outside Municipal Hall in Prague (left). It depicts an octopus draped from his neck and a naked woman clinging to his side. It was erected in 1910 by the powerful Jewish community at the time. During the occupation, the Nazis thought the hideous spectacle spoke for itself and just left the statue untouched. A statue of Loew’s Golem creation stands nearby.
Now, maybe to some, Kerry’s history is just a long string of random connections. But in my eyes, having both Judah Loew and Francis Forbes in your bloodline is more than mere a curiosity. For a guy who is as obviously intelligent, as John Forbes Kerry is, it is unfathomable that his family tree would be a mystery to him.
In 2003, as Kerry’s presidential campaign sought big contributors and the opposition dug for dirt, genealogists turned up these surprising family factoids. Kerry had expressed surprise that his Bostonian “Irish jig” was up and then dismissed the findings as “obscure” ancestry.” He did fess up to having an ancestor “from Austria” but back in the depths of history. Sorry, John, being a half Jewish relative of one of the most famous rabbis in history is not obscure.
But what do I mean by his “Irish jig”? Well, this is where the story gets even more squirrelly.
The Outlandish Irish Story
According to an archive for Jewish genealogy, Kerry’s Moravian grandfather Fritz Kohn and Fritz’s brother Otto Kohn converted to Roman Catholicism in Vienna in 1901. As part of their family reinvention, they simply picked the name “Kerry” off of a map of Ireland.
In 1905, Fritz (Kohn) Kerry and his wife, Ida (Loew), moved to America. After a few years, they situated in Boston, where in 1915 they had a son, Richard Kerry, the future father of John F. Kerry.
Having lived in Central Europe myself, I can say with confidence that Richard looks very Moravian, even more so than Jewish. Richard had good positions with the U.S. government’s foreign service division and had a keen interest in politics throughout his life.
For sake of discussion of this outlandish “Irish” claim, we can presume Kerry’s father grew up with a standard Boston accent. However, grandfather Fred Kerry (aka Fritz Kohn) didn’t migrate from Central Europe to the U.S. until he was 32 years old and his wife Ida was 28. So there is no way either could have passed themselves off as an Irish Catholic given the heavy Czech, not Irish, accents they would have had.
Of course, language can change over a person’s lifetime and even speech patterns, but accents are established by age 12. For example, listen to Henry Kissinger. He immigrated from Germany in 1938 at the age of 15 and he still speaks with a thick accent. In fact, my own grandmother’s native tongue was Norwegian, and only a moron would ever confuse her accented American English later in her life with Irish. No, John Kerry’s grandparents would have had a thick Czech or Germanic accent. Brno and Moravia has a mix of Czech and German speakers, and especially so during the 19th century when it was under Austrian-Hapsburg rule.
Despite having had a successful shoe business in Brookline, Mass., Fred committed suicide in 1921. His son, Richard, would have been just 6 years old at the time, which is certainly old enough to know that his dad didn’t have a Boston Irish accent.
Ida Loew Kerry lived a long life until 1960. John Kerry was born in 1943, so unless grandma — who lived in the same community — was hidden in an attic, there is zero chance that John Kerry thought she was an Irish woman. And was Kerry’s father Richard’s character so questionable that he couldn’t just reveal the truth and follow it up with “but we’re good Catholics now”? Instead, we get more tribe storytelling. Patterns of white lies and acting surprised or put upon when revelations come about, as John Kerry did, is a very bad characteristic.
Note: Despite the duplicity, Richard Kerry was NOT a neocon but more a multilateralist and pro-U.N.
Does John Forbes Kerry’s pedigree and the storytelling behind it matter in the bigger scheme of things? You will have to decide yourself. To me, it’s more than of passing interest. It says a lot. For better or worse, Kerry’s career is about over. More pertinent (and worse) are the background s of active players, such as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.