This piece originally appeared at YNet News.
Last week at this time, I was in Terezin, Czech Republic, at the 18th Century fortress where the Nazis gathered Jews from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, and other countries for the tragic journey to death camps further east. I joined a group from the Boston synagogue, of which my wife is the lay head, in traveling to Europe to celebrate Torah scrolls miraculously saved from Czech synagogues during World War II and restored 50 years ago. Both of my daughters became a Bat Mitzvah reading from a scroll rescued from the Bohemian town of Blatna, from which 26 Jews were transported to Terezin and none survived.
At Terezin, I walked along the banks of Ohre River and joined other members of our temple in saying Kaddish at the place where the Nazis poured out the cremated remains of some 22,000 inmates who died at Terezin. These presumably included the remains of my paternal great-uncle Otto Lowe, who died at Terezin in 1942. He, along with his sister Jenni, was transported to Terezin in 1942. Jenni was soon sent to die at Treblinka. These experiences and their deeply personal meaning for my family make it all the more disturbing that some have recently suggested that my brother, John Kerry, had expressed "anti-Semitic undertones" in his pursuit of a framework for negotiations, and some even suggested that he "has declared war on God." Such charges would be ridiculous if they were not so vile. My family's experience with anti-Semitism and oppression runs deep. On another visit to the Czech Republic last fall, I visited the town where my grandfather Frederick Kerry was born Fritz Kohn. A few years before emigrating to America, while serving in the military, my grandfather converted from Judaism to Catholicism because of anti-Semitism in the ranks. In memory - and in honor - of the Kohns, I planted a tree in my grandfather's town. This experience is not limited to the side of the family with Jewish roots. My mother -- a Bostonian -- was living in Paris training to become a nurse when World War II broke out, and she was among the mass of refugees who escaped the city in front of the Nazis.
The sister she left with was later interned for helping the resistance in the south of France, where her activities included helping Jewish families get out of the country. My grandparents' home was occupied by the Nazis and later destroyed by them because it offered an artillery spotting post in battles with Patton's army. All this is part of my brother John Kerry's DNA. His earliest memory is of holding our mother's hand as, soon after the war, she walked in tears viewing the ruins of that house. With my father serving his country in the State Department, our family took up a posting in Berlin with bombed, burned out, and shot-up buildings still visible across Europe. My brother embraced my own conversion to Judaism when I got married. He has been part of our family mitzvot. He was present when my daughters read from the Blatna scroll and helped to raise the chairs in which they were paraded on the dance floor. I recall when he came home from his first visit to Israel with friends from the Boston Jewish community, more than thirty years ago as a young Senator: he spoke vividly of flying an Israeli military jet over the country and realizing how it was possible to cross the country in a matter of moments.
Today, his determined work on Middle East peace is informed by an abiding sense of the need to secure Israel as a home for the Jewish people. For years since that first visit, he has engaged passionately with a wide variety of leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and across the region to understand the way to peace. He also maintained a 100-percent pro-Israel voting record during his nearly three decades in the US senate. It is this deep involvement that has led to the conviction that Israel's long-term security requires a two-state solution -- that, in the face of the inexorable forces of security, demographics, and geography, Israel cannot sustain occupation of the West Bank and remain both democratic and Jewish. It is the same conclusion that such resolute defenders of Israel as Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon reached and that Prime Minister Netanyahu is confronting now. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman, and Ambassador Dermer were courageous in their defense of my brother's motives. We can all debate the effectiveness of security measures, the delineation of borders, arrangements for East Jerusalem, and other real issues among the parties, but there is no truth and no good that can come by calling into question John Kerry's good faith toward his own heritage. Israel and the Jewish people deserve better than that.