Claudia Taylor Brod never met her grandfather, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States.
She inherited his legacy through history books, old family photos and countless stories from her grandmother, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, who is 91 and still lives on the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas.
Among the lessons handed down, Brod says, were a sense of compassion and an obligation to give back to her community.
The youngest child of Luci Baines Johnson Turpin — President Johnson’s youngest daughter — Brod, 28, says those lessons helped her realize “that I was part of this family, part of this legacy and with that came a lot of responsibility for what I had been given.”
Now Brod has begun to put those lessons into action at home in Miami Beach, where she has lived since 2000.
To celebrate the birth of her first child in February, Brod and her husband, Steven, donated $10,000, drawn from the Lyndon Johnson Family Foundation, to the Holocaust Survivors Program run by Jewish Community Services, a non-denominational agency for residents of Miami-Dade County. The gift was made on behalf of Brod’s obstetrician, Dr. Steven Silvers, but her interest in Judaism runs deep.
Brod, whose husband is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, converted to Judaism in 2003.
It was not easy to renounce Catholicism — “I went to mass every Sunday until I turned 18,” she says — but Judaism “makes a little more sense to me.
“I started to read about the Jewish faith and I was really taken by it,” she says. “I related to its unity and its survival over thousands of years.”
Though she does not keep kosher and generally goes to temple only on holidays, Brod says she has embraced Judaism’s emphasis on family and traditions.
“I love that you’re not supposed to answer the phone [on the Sabbath] and that it gives you time to spend with family,” she says.
As a steward of the Johnson family legacy, Brod believes her grandfather’s administration is disproportionately defined by President Johnson’s ordering thousands of American troops to Vietnam and committing America to major combat there.
“That kind of saddens me,” she says.
James Smallwood, a retired history professor at Oklahoma State University, agrees that Vietnam overshadows Johnson’s populist agendas — the War on Poverty and the Great Society — and the president’s leadership in persuading Congress to pass landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act, the Voter Act, the Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act, and the Open Housing Law.
But there’s more about Johnson’s political career that remains obscure, particularly “Operation Texas,” an allegedly covert program that Smallwood says helped save dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Jews from the Holocaust.
Smallwood purports that Johnson surreptitiously supplied documents to a friend who then used those documents to help Jews flee Eastern Europe and resettle in America.
‘Some things that Johnson did were definitely unorthodox if not illegal,’ Smallwood says.
But no one has presented any evidence to support such an allegation, says Claudia Anderson, an archivist with the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin. Anderson traces the legend of “Operation Texas” to a speech given by a prominent Jewish businessman in Austin, Jim Novy, during a dedication ceremony, which Johnson attended, for a synagogue named Congregation Agudas Achim in December 1963.
In his dedication speech, which was recorded, Novy alleged that in 1938 then-congressman Johnson had helped arrange — through letters and telephone calls to ambassadors and immigration officials — for 42 Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland to obtain visas to enter America.
Novy’s speech also claimed that in 1940 Johnson used his political influence to skirt Texas law and help lodge Jewish refugees in state youth camps.
But, Anderson says, “there is absolutely no substantiation of that whatsoever.”
Anderson did, however, find evidence that Johnson wrote letters to U.S. embassies in Eastern Europe, prior to World War II, that helped expedite the immigration of Jewish refugees to America.
“I definitely believe Johnson helped Jewish people come into this country by helping them cut red tape and immigration procedures,” Anderson says.
Brod says she first learned of “Operation Texas” from her mother. And though she does not remember the details of the story, she found it to be “an act of moral courage” by her grandfather.
“He did some wonderful things as far as civil rights, as far as education, but this one in particular was one I could relate to,” she says. “I married someone who’s Jewish and then I became Jewish myself.”
It also cemented Brod’s conviction to carry on the family legacy of civic involvement.
“My grandmother did conservation. My grandfather did education,” she says. “I feel it’s my obligation…. The Jewish community is a good place to start.”