Stuart E. Eizenstat Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Politics, Law, and the
Search for 'Imperfect Justice': Conversation with Stuart E. Eizenstat, former
Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; April 30, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Mr. Eizenstat, welcome to Berkeley.

Harry, thank you very much.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Chicago, but we moved to Atlanta when I was just a few months old, and I was raised in Atlanta.

In looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

First Atlanta shaped it, and [then] my parents did. I grew up during a period in which the key issue was not the Holocaust issues I write about in my book, but rather the issue of desegregation and civil rights. That was my confrontation with injustice.

In terms of my parents, I grew up in a household that had a very Jewish atmosphere. And yet, despite the fact that my father and both uncles had served in World War II, I never heard a discussion of the Holocaust, never met a survivor, and never took a course on the Holocaust [either] in Atlanta or in college at the University of North Carolina, because none were offered at the time. It was not considered a suitable academic topic. But the values of justice and concern for the disadvantaged were very much ones that were shaped by my parents in my upbringing.

You mentioned you did your undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina. What did you major in?

I majored in political science. My involvement in politics began there, both in student government and then spending what was for me a fateful summer as a congressional intern from UNC in the Congress in 1963, which was the summer of the great civil rights march by Martin Luther King. That, again, brought back to me the whole civil rights issue and my confrontation with injustice, and it created in me a desire to go into public service and to see if I could right some of the wrongs that I was witnessing as a young student.

Then you went on to law school?

I went to Harvard Law School, graduated in 1967, and immediately went to work in the Johnson White House doing domestic issues and writing domestic policy papers. At the end of the administration, when the president decided not to run for reelection, I worked for the Hubert Humphrey campaign as his research director.

It was at that time, Harry, that I had my first real confrontation with the Holocaust, when I met a fellow campaign worker in the Humphrey campaign named Arthur Morse, who had just published a path-breaking book called While Six Million Died, which laid out the inactivity -- the acquiescence -- of President Roosevelt and his top aides, in the certain knowledge that they had of the genocide which was occurring to the Jews and other civilians. I said to myself at that time, Harry, if I ever have a chance in government to rectify that wrong, I hope I'll find a way to do it.

What did you do after law school? Did you go back to Atlanta?

After the Johnson White House and the Humphrey campaign, when he lost to Richard Nixon, I went back to Atlanta. I was a law clerk for a federal judge. And then as I went into private practice, I met a young state senator in Georgia who was running for governor, and I became his policy director. His name was Jimmy Carter. Now, this was in 1969, and our relationship continued throughout my private practice. When he decided to run for president, I became his policy director, and as early as 1974 I was working on that campaign. When he won, I moved to Washington and became his chief domestic policy advisor in the White House.

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