We at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington mourn Ambassador Max Kampelman, who passed away January 25 at the age of 92.
Kampelman was a leading figure in the Washington community from his arrival here in Washington in 1949. After serving on Senator Hubert Humphrey’s staff, Kampelman joined the law firm that is now Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. He remained with the firm until his death.
Kampelman is most known for his diplomatic achievements, representing the United States in negotiations with the Soviet Union in Madrid from 1980 to 1983, and in negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons from 1985 to 1989. Along with Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter, Kampelman insisted on coupling weapons reductions with progress on human rights issues.
In addition to being involved internationally, Kampelman took a strong interest in the local community, serving as chairman of, among other organizations, WETA and the Friends of the National Zoo.
You can read more about his accomplished life here.
One of the biggest honors in my life was conducting an oral history with Ambassador Kampelman in March 2011. The interview was part of our Soviet Jewry movement project—I interviewed both Kampelman and Schifter to get the “view from the top,” to learn what role the movement played in U.S. government decision-making and diplomacy with the Soviet Union.
Our two-hour discussion, held at Kampelman’s law office two blocks from the White House, touched on many subjects—arms negotiations, the role of human rights, and Kampelman’s fascinating life story. Here is one of the more memorable stories he told me. He had just finished a speech in New York when a once-imprisoned Soviet Jewish refusenik approached him: