Josef Korbel

Josef Korbel
Personal details
Born (1909-09-20)20 September 1909
Geiersberg/Kyšperk, Austria-Hungary (now Letohrad, Czech Republic)
Died 18 July 1977(1977-07-18) (aged 67)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Spouse(s) Anna Spieglova
Children Madeleine Jana Korbel
Katherine Korbel
John Korbel
Parents Arnost and Olga Korbel
Religion Catholicism
(Previously Judaism)

Josef Korbel (20 September 1909 – 18 July 1977) was a Czech-American diplomat and political scientist of Jewish descent. He served as Czechoslovakia's ambassador to Yugoslavia, the chair of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, and then as a professor of international politics at the University of Denver, where he founded the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

His daughter Madeleine Albright served as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, and he was the mentor of George W. Bush's Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Background and career

Josef was born on 20 September 1909 to Arnost and Olga Korbel, who both died in the Holocaust.[1] At the time of his daughter Madeleine's birth, Josef was serving as press-attaché at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Belgrade.[2]

Though he served as a diplomat in the government of Czechoslovakia, Korbel's politics and Judaism forced him to flee with his wife and baby Madeleine after the Nazi invasion in 1939 and move to London. Korbel served as an advisor to Edvard Beneš, in the Czech government in exile. He gave speeches for the BBC's daily broadcasts to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.[3][4] During their time in England the Korbels converted to Catholicism.[1]

Korbel returned to Czechoslovakia after the war, receiving a luxurious Prague apartment expropriated from Karl Nebrich, a Bohemian German industrialist expelled under the Beneš decrees.[5] Korbel was appointed as the Czechoslovak ambassador to Yugoslavia, where he remained until the Communist coup in May 1948. Around this time, he was named a delegate to the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan to mediate on the Kashmir dispute. He served as its chair, and subsequently wrote several articles and a book on the Kashmir problem.[2]

In 1949, Korbel applied for political asylum in the United States stating that he would be arrested in Czechoslovakia for his "faithful adherence to the ideals of democracy." He received asylum and also a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to teach international politics at the University of Denver. In 1964, with the benefaction of Ben Cherrington, Korbel established the Graduate School of International Studies and became its founding Dean.[2][4] One of his students was Condoleezza Rice, the first woman appointed National Security Advisor (2001) and the first African-American woman appointed Secretary of State (2005). Korbel's daughter Madeleine became the first female Secretary of State in 1997. Both of them have testified to his substantial influence on their careers in foreign policy and interntational relations. [3]

After his death, the University of Denver established the Josef Korbel Humanitarian Award in 2000. Since then, 28 people have received it.

The Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver was named the Josef Korbel School of International Studies on May 28, 2008.

Academic work

Artwork ownership controversy

Philipp Harmer, an Austrian citizen, filed a lawsuit claiming that Josef Korbel's family is in inappropriate possession of artwork belonging to his great-grandfather, a German entrepreneur Karl Nebrich. Like most other ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, Nebrich and his family were expelled from the country under the postwar "Beneš decrees", and left behind artwork and furniture in an apartment subsequently given to Korbel's family, before they also were forced to flee the country.[5]


  1. 1 2 Michael Dobbs, "Albright's Family Tragedy Comes to Light", The Washington Post February 4, 1997, p. A01.
  2. 1 2 3 About us, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, retrieved May 15, 2016.
  3. 1 2 Michael Dobbs, Josef Korbel's Enduring Foreign Policy Legacy Washington Post December 28, 2000.
  4. 1 2 Koven, Steven G.; Götzke, Frank (2010), American Immigration Policy: Confronting the Nation's Challenges, Springer Science & Business Media, p. 159, ISBN 978-0-387-95940-5
  5. 1 2 Suzanne Smalley: Germans lost their art, too. Family says Albright's father took paintings - May 17, 2000
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