Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube
Member Drive Deadline: Friday
Support independent journalism

Listen to Jared Kushner’s Family Saga

To understand top presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, you have to learn his family history.

Jared Kushner visits the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp in February 2019. Kushner‘s grandparents were Holocaust survivors and refugees. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

This story was co-published with WNYC.

Stay up to date with email updates about WNYC and ProPublica’s investigations into the president’s business practices.

In 1996, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor and refugee to America sat down with an interviewer from the USC Shoah Foundation to recount what she had experienced. The woman, Rae Kushner, was part of the Holocaust remembrance movement.

“If we’re not going to tell now, in 20 years I don’t know who’s going to be to tell,” Rae Kushner said in her Yiddish-accented English. “And now we have still the strength and we have the power to do this and to warn the rest of the world to be careful who is coming up on top of your government.”

Rae’s grandson Jared is now one of the most powerful people in the U.S. government. To understand him, you need to understand his family story — the subject of our new episode of “Trump, Inc.”

Listen to the Episode

Rae and her husband, Joe, had survived Nazi mass murders — including of their family members — beatings, near-starvation and hiding out in a forest through the brutal Polish winter. After the war, they fled to Budapest, Hungary, and ultimately, to Italy, sometimes on trains, sometimes on foot, sneaking around border guards until they made it to a refugee camp.

They were stuck there for almost four years. No country would take in these stateless, penniless Jews. Even after the Holocaust, U.S. immigration laws were pervasively anti-Semitic. In 1948, three years after World War II ended, only 847 Jews were resettled in the United States by aid groups.

In her 1996 interview, Rae Kushner was asked: “What was your maiden name?”

She answered: “Rae Kushner.”

“Your maiden name and your married name are the same names?”

Rae answered: “Same name. We are relatives.”

But her husband’s name hadn’t been Kushner. He was born Yossel Berkowitz. The two knew each other before the war and met up in Budapest while fleeing the Soviet Union.

As the Kushner family understood it, U.S. visa laws favored father-and-son relationships over connections by marriage. So Yossel Berkowitz changed his name — to Joseph Kushner.

“Because sons and fathers were given priority to get visas, Yossel assumed his wife’s maiden name being that he travelled with his father in law,” according to a self-published family history, “Miracle of Life,” written by his children. Joe said he was the son of Naum Kushner, who was actually his wife Rae’s father.

The family also listed its country of origin not as Poland but as Germany, which was more favorable for immigration purposes. These claims were recorded by aid workers in a 70-year-old case file maintained by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped the Kushners book passage from Italy and resettle in America.

Screenshot of Kushner family case file from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, 1949.

During his time in the administration, Jared Kushner has defended its restrictionist policy on refugees. In an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios on HBO, he said: “You’ve got 65 million refugees in the world. You can’t have all of them come into your country.”

When asked if he agreed with cutting levels so dramatically, Kushner said, “It doesn’t make a difference one way or the other.”

What does Kushner think about the White House’s refugee policy given his own family’s history? He did not answer our questions about that.

Andrea Bernstein is the co-host of “Trump, Inc.” and author of the forthcoming book “American Oligarchs: The Kushners, The Trumps and the Marriage of Money and Power,” from which this “Trump, Inc.” episode is adapted. The book is excerpted on The New Yorker’s website.

Protect Independent Journalism

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers. We hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that hold people in power to account and produce real change.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded over 10 years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: Newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models are failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. More than a decade (and six Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built the largest investigative newsroom in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

Your donation today will help us ensure that we can continue this critical work. From COVID-19, to our elected officials, to racial and criminal justice and much more, we are busier than ever covering stories you won’t see anywhere else. Make your gift of any amount today and join the tens of thousands of ProPublicans across the country, standing up for the power of independent journalism to produce real, lasting change. Thank you.

Donate Now

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page