Richard Schifter

Ronald Reagan Vienna City College of New York
Richard Schifter
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
In office
October 31, 1985 – April 3, 1992
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Preceded byElliott Abrams
Succeeded byPatricia Diaz Dennis
Personal details
Born (1923-07-31) July 31, 1923 (age 97)
Vienna, Austria
Alma materCity College of New York (BA)
Yale University (LL.B)
Military service
Branch/service United States Army
UnitRitchie Boys
Battles/warsWorld War II

Richard Schifter (born July 31, 1923) is an Austrian-American attorney and diplomat who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs from 1985 to 1992.

Early life and education

Richard Schifter was born in Vienna on July 31, 1923 into a Jewish family from Poland.[1] In the wake of the Anschluss by which the First Austrian Republic was annexed by Nazi Germany, Schifter's family sought permission for all of them to emigrate to the United States, but Richard was the only member of the family able to obtain a visa. His parents, who had been born in Poland, were in the Polish quota, and placed on a long waiting list.[2] He immigrated to the United States without his family in December 1938, at the age of 15.[3] In the U.S., he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of the City of New York in 1943.[4]

Schifter enrolled in Yale Law School in 1948, receiving his LL.B. in 1951.[4]

Military service

Schifter joined the United States Army in 1943, becoming one of the Ritchie Boys, a unit of young Jewish-German refugees who the U.S. Army trained in psychological warfare.[3]

He was present for the Normandy landings and did intelligence work in the field.[3] After the Battle of the Bulge, he was stationed in Aachen and tasked with interviewing the civilian population, thus producing one of the first studies of daily life under the Third Reich.[3] He searched for his family after the war, but they had all been killed in the Holocaust.[1] He was discharged from the Army in 1946, but stayed in Allied-occupied Germany working for the U.S. military government as a civilian until 1948.[3][5]


After graduating from law school, Schifter joined the law firm of Riegelman, Strasser, Schwarz & Spiegelberg (now Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson).[6] Following the death of Felix S. Cohen in 1953, Schifter, along with fellow attorney Arthur Lazarus, Jr., became the main attorneys for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation in their repeated disputes with the United States government.[6] Schifter practiced law at Fried, Frank until the 1980s, as one of the foremost practitioners of federal Indian law in the country.[7] He also served on the President's Task Force on American Indians from 1966 to 1967.[7]

From 1981 to 1982, Schifter was U.S. representative to the UNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.[7] He was also an alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights 1981 to 1982.[7] From 1983 to 1985, he was the United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.[4] He was also Deputy United States Representative to the United Nations Security Council with the rank of Ambassador from 1984 to 1985.[4]

In 1985, President of the United States Ronald Reagan nominated Schifter to be Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. After Senate Confirmation, Schifter served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs from October 31, 1985 until April 3, 1992. Schifter's views on U.S. foreign policy have been described as neoconservative.[8]

After the election of Bill Clinton, he was appointed to special assistant to the United States National Security Council.[9] He served in this capacity until 2001.[10]

Since leaving government in 2001, Schifter has headed the American Jewish International Relations Institute and the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe.[10] He was also a trustee of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Hear Ambassador Richard Schifter’s personal Holocaust story",, Apr. 26, 2006
  2. ^ "Don't Wave Goodbye," Jason and Posner, Praeger/Greenwood (2004)
  3. ^ a b c d e Profile from Ritchie Boys website
  4. ^ a b c d Continuation of Richard Schifter as an Assistant Secretary of State, June 14, 1989
  5. ^ "Don't Wave Goodbye," Jason and Posner, Praeger/Greenwood (2004)
  6. ^ a b Edward Lazarus, Black Hills, White Justice: The Sioux Nation Versus the United States, 1775 to the Present (University of Nebraska Press, 1999), p. 226
  7. ^ a b c d Nomination of Richard Schifter To Be an Assistant Secretary of State, Oct. 1, 1985
  8. ^ Stefan A. Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 83
  9. ^ Paul D. Molineaux, "Richard Schifter: Human Rights or 'Population Exchange' Advocate?", Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1994
  10. ^ a b c Profile from Virginia Law School