WASHINGTON (JTA) — It should have been ancient, if unsavory, news: A cavalier reference to gassing Jews, an aside in a conversation nearly 40 years old. But the aside was pronounced by Henry Kissinger, a German-born Jew who fled Nazi horrors as a child and who has been honored by multiple Jewish organizations as one of Israel’s saviors during its darkest days, when he was secretary of state to President Nixon. “If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Kissinger is heard saying on the latest batch of Nixon-era Oval Office tapes released by the Nixon Library. Following its publication Saturday — buried deep in a New York Times story that focused more on Nixon’s well-known bigotries — a shock shuddered through the Jewish community and led to calls to shun Kissinger, and then to calls to forgive him. Kissinger in an e-mail to The Jewish Telegraphic Agency would brook no request for an apology and did not even directly address his gas chambers remark. Instead he appeared to insist on context: His frustration at the time with the insistence of the Jewish community and U.S. senators such as Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) and Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.) on attaching human rights riders to dealings with the Soviets.“The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” Kissinger wrote to JTA.