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His timbre was just one reason I always looked forward to hearing Henry Kissinger expound on international relations. Kissinger, who died this week after living a full century, had a voice that was gravelly and deep, and grew only more so over the years. But it wasn't just the voice. It was his unique accent, eccentric to some but strangely familiar to me.

I've heard Kissinger, who was born as Heinz into a Jewish family in Weimar Germany, hold forth in both his native German and in English, his adopted language after the Kissingers fled Nazi Germany and he became Henry. Visiting Germany — which he did often, both as U.S. Secretary of State and eminence grise later — he liked to open in German, then switch to English with the joke that "I have reached a stage where I speak no language without an accent."

That always got a laugh out of German audiences. Kissinger was from Fuerth. Politically part of Bavaria, the city belongs to a cultural region called Franconia, which is famous — make that notorious — for its distinctive and not entirely euphonious dialect. Heinz took traces of that accent with him as Henry, in both his tongues. Over the years, American patterns sedimented on top of the Franconian in his German, making it singularly Kissingerian. As for his accent in English, which wasn't typically German, nobody could ever mistake it for anything other than his own.

That unique mixture signaled that he was both an outsider and an insider — in Germany as in the U.S. It established him as transnational and transcultural even as he spent his life thinking deeply about the relative power and self-interest of specific nation-states, and especially his own country, America. "Realism" is the name for that approach to foreign affairs. Kissinger was held up as one of its main intellectual scions.

That air of worldliness fascinated more culturally autochthonous Americans such as Richard Nixon, who as president made Kissinger his national security adviser and then secretary of state. It also cast a spell on postwar Germans, who embraced him — as guest and speaker, if not always as policymaker — in part for not making them feel bad about being German.

This point always fascinated me about Kissinger the person. It was something I wanted to ask him about but never did. My question would have been: Why haven't you spoken more about the Holocaust? Why didn't you make it a thing when dealing with Germany?

The Kissingers in Fuerth during the 1930s, like all Jews in the Third Reich, suffered terribly from the steadily worsening exclusion, discrimination, humiliation and hate directed at them. As it happens, my own family also lived in Fuerth and knew the Kissingers. My grandfather, I've been told, repeatedly urged the elder Kissinger, Louis, to emigrate. The Kissingers eventually did, but dangerously late — in 1938, just before the nationwide pogrom called Kristallnacht. Heinz was 15.

Henry later found out that 13 members of his family including his grandmother were murdered in the Holocaust. He even personally helped liberate a concentration camp, near Hanover, when he returned as an American soldier. The experience was traumatic, he later said, and simultaneously made him well up with pride at being American.

What those traumas did not do — surprisingly, to me — is make him hate Germans. Instead, Kissinger was open to studying and advising them and wishing them well throughout postwar history. He had the ear of chancellors from Konrad Adenauer, whom he profiled touchingly in his most recent book, to Angela Merkel, whom he gave the Henry A. Kissinger Prize, his highest accolade. He accepted Germany's postwar atonement, celebrated its economic and democratic rebirth and supported its reunification.

This part of his legacy will not make headlines. Those belong to his diplomacy during the Vietnam War, toward China and the Soviet Union, in the Middle East and South America, all of which was controversial. The late pundit Christopher Hitchens memorably wanted Kissinger tried as a war criminal. His lifelong relationship with Germany, though, tells a different story: of personal magnanimity and grand strategic sweep.

As he inhabited and embodied two continents, Kissinger also straddled at least two centuries intellectually. His undergraduate thesis was modestly titled "The Meaning of History," and his doctoral dissertation looked at the statecraft of Klemens von Metternich, to whom he's often been compared.

Metternich helped Europe re-establish order after the Napoleonic wars. He also had biographical similarities with Kissinger. He came from a small Rhenish principality not far from Kissinger's place of birth, at a time when there was no German nation, only a vague construct called the Holy Roman Empire, which was eerily similar in structure and ambiguity to today's European Union. (That may be one reason why Kissinger never took the E.U. seriously.)

But Metternich, like Kissinger, later made his name as chief diplomat of a Great Power, the Austrian Empire in Metternich's case. Kissinger would look at maps in the 20th century as Metternich looked at those in the 19th, searching for ways to balance powers and interests to maintain order.

This "realist" perspective and the long time frames in Kissinger's intellect led him to his notions about Germany. When disunited and weak, it presented one kind of danger to Europe, he understood; when united and strong, another kind. So Kissinger regarded both Germany's reunification and its continental power as inevitable, but wanted to contain this resurgent might in democratic, pro-American and pro-Western structures such as NATO. If he worried at all, as he told Bloomberg earlier this year, it was about the "inability of Germany to understand the transformation of its own position" in the international system, and the need for moderation and wisdom.

Part of Kissinger's legacy is that he was able to deliver this message to the Germans and have them be not only receptive but also grateful for it. Somehow he convinced them that, although he never forgot, he had forgiven. Hating would have been psychologically easier. But as statesman, scholar and mensch, he chose to see Germans and their history in their vast, complex totality.

Henry Kissinger leaves a complex legacy, with dark chapters for many people in the world. But he did a lot for his adopted country, as for his native country. "He understood and convinced other world leaders that the Germans after 1945 had learned their lesson and could be trusted," Helmut Schmidt, another chancellor, once said. "We have this man to thank for that. Henry Kissinger never forgot his German roots."

He enters history as Henry, without ever having rejected Heinz.

Andreas Kluth is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering U.S. diplomacy, national security and geopolitics. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Global and a writer for the Economist.