(October 5, 2020 / JNS) Holocaust survivor, former U.S. diplomat and presidential adviser Richard Schifter died on Oct. 4 at the age of 97.
Schifter was born in Vienna on July 31, 1923, and fled alone to America at the age of 15 after the Nazi takeover of Austria. Unable to obtain visas, the rest of his family was killed by the Nazis.
He joined the U.S. army in 1943, fought the Nazis, served in the occupation forces after the war, and after his discharge in 1948 attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1951. During his legal career, he represented Native American tribes in disputes with the U.S. government.
From 1981 to 1982, Schifter was U.S. representative to the UNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, as well as alternate U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
From 1983 to 1985, he served as U.S. Representative to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and from 1984 to 1985 as Deputy U.S. Representative to the U.N. Security Council.
Between 1985 and 1992, Schifter was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
Under President Bill Clinton, he served as special assistant to the president on the staff of the White House National Security Council and as a special adviser to the Secretary of State.
Among his various honors, Schifter received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, Austria’s Golden Honor Insignia with Star and the Order of Commander of Romania’s Star.
“Ambassador Richard Schifter was a symbol of perseverance and strength who achieved much in his lifetime and worked endlessly on improving Israel’s position in the U.N.,” tweeted Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz on Sunday. “My condolences to his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.”
Ambassador Richard Schifter was a symbol of perseverance and strength who achieved much in his lifetime and worked endlessly on improving #Israel‘s position in the UN.
My condolences to his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing. pic.twitter.com/cFWqWOc1i8
— Alon Ushpiz (@AlonUshpiz) October 4, 2020
The American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International mourned the loss of a statesman and committed Jew.
“With his vast experience in international affairs and as an advisor to presidents, Ambassador Schifter gave a boost to AJC’s diplomatic efforts, especially in matters related to the United Nations,” said AJC CEO David Harris in a statement. “In the State Department, in the White House, and at the U.N., Dick was a passionate advocate for American leadership, for the security and well-being of Israel, for Soviet Jews seeking freedom and for the defense of human rights.”
In a statement, B’nai B’rith International said that Schifter “was an inspirational leader, accomplished diplomat, public servant, staunch advocate for human rights, a resolute defender of Israel, a strong proponent of trans-Atlantic relations and of America’s place in the world.”
“Notwithstanding his immense achievements, Ambassador Schifter’s persona was one of humility and civility,” they added.
Schifter is survived by four of his five children. He was predeceased by his daughter, Barbara, in 2013, and his wife, Lilo, who died in 2019.
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