From Holocaust Survivor to Ambassador: The Story of Robert G. Neumann

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other lives lost. Today we pause to honor Ambassador Robert G. Neumann, sharing his story from a personal object of his in our collection.

Our Collection: Remembering the Holocaust

Ambassador Robert G. Neumann was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1916. He studied diplomacy at the University of Vienna, the University of Rennes, and at the Geneva School of International Studies. During his studies in Geneva, he was imprisoned by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. 

After his release, Neumann emigrated to the United States. He carried all of his possessions in this one suitcase, which his son later donated to the National Museum of American Diplomacy. 

This suitcase provides a physical reminder of one Holocaust survivor’s determination to rebuild his life in the United States.

Neumann suitcase holocaust
Ambassador Robert G. Neumann’s suitcase used to emigrate to the United States.  Gift of Ambassador Ronald and Mrs. Elaine Neumann.

A Career in International Affairs and Diplomacy

Neumann went on to become an international affairs scholar at UCLA. After becoming a tenured professor, he was named U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan by President Lyndon B. Johnson. While the post was initially a temporary one, Neumann was compelled to continue his career as a diplomat and resigned from his professorship. Neumann would later serve as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco and U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Neumann Spiro Agnew
Ambassador Robert G. Neumann, Vice President Spiro Agnew and
King Zahir Shah at Gulkhana Palace in 1970. Courtesy of UCLA Library Special Collections. Neumann Family Papers.

From his oral history created by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Ambassador Neumann reflected on what he learned from the camps that he applied to his work as a diplomat: 

“I learned to appraise people for what they were and not for their position or rank. This stood me in good stead later on when I was privileged to meet heads of state and government and even when I was merely an assistant professor I met them, with respect to be sure, but without being in the slightest unnerved by their station…

– Ambassador Robert G. Neumann

This legacy of diplomacy would not end with Ambassador Robert G. Neumann. His son, Ronald E. Neumann, joined the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, following in his father’s footsteps.

Ambassador Neumann George W Bush
President George W. Bush meets with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, Monday, Oct. 24, 2005, in the White House’s Oval Office in Washington. White House photo by Paul Morse.

In addition to many other tours worldwide, Ambassador Neumann served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. In 2018, he received the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

From Refugee to Diplomat: A True American Story

Ambassador Neumann is one of many refugees and immigrants to serve the United States as a diplomat. The suitcase reinforces the United States as a beacon of freedom and hope, the legacy of service and resilience in American diplomacy, and the importance of immigrants’ contributions to the United States.

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