The story of former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses is a unique one: It’s a tale of a young lawyer with the American Jewish Committee who was thrust into a life he didn’t expect. On July 12, guests packed the sanctuary of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C., to listen to an exchange between Moses, who is also chairman of UN Watch, and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
The event marked the release of Moses’s new book, “Bucharest Diary: An American Ambassador’s Journey,” which includes first-hand accounts of the diplomacy, both public and private, that helped Romania recover from four decades of Communist rule. A book signing and reception followed the discussion.
With his family and friends seated in the front rows, Moses recounted going to a country he knew very little about — on a plane “held together with chewing gum” — and meeting young Romanian Jews who were desperate to escape the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.
It was this encounter that changed his life forever.
Much like another Moses, the ambassador met with Ceausescu multiple times and helped Romanian Jews emigrate to Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which was made a bit easier as diplomatic relations were maintained between the United States and Romania, the only country in the communist orbit to do so. In Moses’ words, “Diplomacy is not about dealing with your friends. It’s about dealing with people like Ceausescu.”
Moses’ activism and the connections made from it led directly to his nomination and subsequent unanimous confirmation to the ambassadorship for Romania in 1994 under the Clinton administration. As ambassador, he worked with the new Romanian President Ion Iliescu to repair the image of Romania in the American psyche. He also facilitated negotiations between Romania and neighboring Hungary and Ukraine that resulted in treaties resolving border and other disputes. For his efforts, Moses was awarded the Marc Cruce medal by the Romanian government, the only American to receive this distinction.
Moses was tough in his negotiations and interactions with the new leader. Iliescu once said, according to Moses, that “not even [Soviet politician Leonid Ilyich] Brezhnev talked to us like you’re talking to us.” To which Moses replied: “Well, I hope we’re a better friend than Brezhnev.”
These interactions proved fruitful, and the current Romanian Ambassador to the United States George Maior told the crowd during the question and answer portion of the event that Iliescu saw Moses as “the best ambassador to Romania that the United States has had.” Moses served as ambassador until 1997.
Although the country still struggles today, Romania has the fastest growing gross domestic product (GDP) in Europe in 2018 according to the European Commission. Romania has also been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 2004, providing more active personnel to the organization than Canada in 2015. Moses’s work directly impacted Romania’s ability to create and sustain a viable and more respected democratic Eastern European nation.
Moses’s memoir chronicles all of this in more detail, as well as happy memories of Shabbat dinners, family anecdotes, and stories of people he has encountered. The book will appeal to anyone interested in Eastern European history, the history of Jewish life under communist regimes, or United States public affairs and diplomacy.
By C.M. Ransome
C. M. Ransome is a DC-area native who studied religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys eating Thai food, reading comic books, watching Arsenal Football Club, and playing with her nephew.