As the Nazis closed in on the Jews in the 1930s, Louis lost his teaching job. The boys were expelled from their school and forced to attend an all-Jewish secular school. They were the target of attacks by Hitler Youth, and the two brothers stayed close — not so much for protection, Henry Kissinger said in a phone interview on Wednesday, but for support. “We were outnumbered,” he said.
Paula Kissinger arranged for the family to escape Germany in 1938. When Walter was 14 and Henry was 15, they fled, first to London and then to New York. They settled in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, at the time a haven for Jewish refugees from Germany. At least a dozen members of their family were killed in the Holocaust.
Louis, his spirit broken, found work as a bookkeeper. Paula kept the family together, catering small parties and receptions.
The boys attended George Washington High School, arriving with minimum skills in English. “We both worked as soon as we were 16 and went to school at night,” Henry Kissinger recalled in the interview. He noted that they shared 96 years of experiences, including sleeping on a couch in the living room of their small home.
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While Henry was said to take after their father and shared his scholarly demeanor, Walter was more like their mother, “impish, sociable, lively, practical, a better athlete and down-to-earth,” according to Walter Isaacson’s “Kissinger: A Biography” (1992). “Henry was always the thinker,” their father once said, while “Wally was more the doer, more the extrovert.”
“He liked to fly glider planes and ride motorcycles,” Henry Kissinger noted, “neither of which were preferred activities of mine.”
Another overt difference was that Walter shed his Bavarian accent, while Henry notably retained his. When asked why this was the case, Walter would tell interviewers, “Because I am the Kissinger who listens.”