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John Kerry: The Jewish Chicago roots of the incoming Secretary of State

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a Secretary of State confirmation hearing for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) on Thursday. When Kerry ran for president in 2003, I wrote a story about the Chicago roots of Kerry's Jewish paternal grandfather--born Fritz Kohn. Here is the report:

February 10, 2003 Monday

Kerry's Jewish grandfather found success here

By Lynn Sweet


The maternal roots of presidential hopeful Sen. John Forbes Kerry (D-Mass.) go back to colonial Massachusetts.

What Kerry did not know was that his paternal grandfather, born Fritz Kohn, came to Chicago from Europe and quickly became a successful businessman.

The story of Frederick Kerry intersects with that of prominent Chicago merchant prince George Lytton, son of Henry C. Lytton, a famed State Street retailer.

More details about Kerry's roots are coming to light and are of interest because Kerry is most often taken as a Boston Brahmin. People who are close to him have assumed--in error--that Kerry, a Catholic, is Irish-American.

The Chicago chapter was uncovered by the Sun-Times with the assistance of Charles B. Bernstein, a lawyer and well-known genealogist of the Chicago Jewish community, who searched naturalization records at the Daley Center and old Chicago directories.

Kerry only learned last month from a Boston Globe reporter that his grandfather was Jewish and that he committed suicide in 1921 in a Boston hotel washroom.

Kerry learned about 15 years ago that his paternal grandmother, Ida Lowe, a Catholic convert, was born Jewish. Kerry did not know that his grandfather, from an Austrian town now in the Czech Republic, started his U.S. life in Chicago, spokesman David Wade said Sunday.

Frederick Kerry--who changed his name from Kohn while in Europe-- probably came to Chicago shortly after landing in the United States on Dec. 21, 1905. The two witnesses on his naturalization petition, George Lytton, who said he was a merchant, and Frank Case, listed as a manager, swore he lived in Illinois since January 1906.

Lytton lived on Prairie Avenue, then the home of the city's elites. Records show that Case worked at Sears and was socially prominent. The senator knew that his granfather had some connection with Sears, Wade said.
Kerry's emigrant saga is unusual because "he immediately is residing in a middle-class neighborhood and has a white-collar occupation," said Bernstein.

Kerry filed his initial citizenship papers in Cook County Circuit Court on June 21, 1907. At the time Lytton and Case witnessed Kerry's naturalization petition, on Feb. 6, 1911, he was living at 4868 Sheridan, then part of upscale Uptown.

Frederick Kerry was listed in a 1908 directory with an office on Dearborn in the Loop, and by 1912, he even ran an ad in a directory billing his firm as "Fred A. Kerry & Staff" under the heading "Business counsellors." By 1910, Kerry was listed in the Chicago Blue Book, a listing of prominent Chicagoans.

The Chicago paper trail ends in 1912. The senator's father, Richard, was born in Brookline, Mass., in 1915.
Bernstein said Kerry and the Lyttons had something in common. According to research by Norman Schwartz of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, Henry Lytton was originally Henry Levi.


Copyright 2003 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

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