Influential Americans that ‘called the shots’ in Ceausescu’s Romania

Newsroom 17/03/2018 | 00:05

Although Romania had a Soviet-type economic planning during the brutal dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, the country had contacts with Western powers and some American executives had access to Romania’s leadership and were able to open local subsidiaries for foreign companies despite the tight control of the communist system.

Milton Frederick Rosenthal, a former chairman of the chemical giant Engelhard Corporation, said in 1987 that the company had done about USD 28 billion worth of business with Romania over the last 40 years, according to an article published in Rosenthal, who died in 2005 at 91, was also chairman of the Romanian-US Economic Council.  Engelhard Minerals and Chemical Corp was later taken over by German chemical giant BASF.

Rosenthal was among the strongest backers of the decision of the US Congress to grant the most favored national treatment clause for Romania.

“Romania began receiving MFN treatment on an annual basis under a Presidential waiver from the freedom-of-emigration requirements in the Jackson-Vanik amendment on August 3, 1975. On June 28, 1988, the President announced his decision to allow the waiver to expire in response to the Romanian government’s decision to renounce the renewal of its MFN status subject to the terms of Jackson-Vanik. Romania’s MFN status and its eligibility for export credits expired on July 3, 1988,” according to a Congress document.

Rosenthal was born in New York City. He graduated from City College in 1932 and received his law degree at Columbia in 1935. He served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army judge advocate general’s office in World War II before joining the Stinnes Corporation as secretary and treasurer in 1946, according to the New York Times.

In 1976, Mugur Isarescu, at that time a 27-year old researcher at the Institute of Global Economy, was set to meet with Rosenthal at the New York HQ of Engelhard Minerals and Chemical Corp, according to documents from the National Archives of the US. They were set to discuss about the trade relations between Romania and the US. After the toppling of Ceausescu, Isarescu became the governor of the National Bank of Romania, a position he holds to date.

George G. Gellert is the chairman and CEO of the Gellert Global Group of companies, which includes a network of food importers and distributors, served as the vice chair of the United States-Romanian Economic Council.

On December 27 1989, with the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu at an end, the Chicago Tribune quoted Gellert in an article about the outlook of trade between Romania and the US.

“I think our trade`s going to increase,” said George Gellert, chairman of Atalanta Corp., a food importer based in Elizabeth, N.J. Atalanta imports meat and cheese from Romania. At that time, the company also had a longstanding joint venture with Romania in London.

According to his biography, Gellert was one of the first businessmen invited to trade with China in the 1970s. He was also director of the East-West Trade Council.

Another executive from the US-Romanian Economic Council decided to venture into Romania. Back in 1974, Gabriel Hauge, chairman of the American section of the association, had announced that Manufacturers Hanover Trust, the nation’s fourth largest bank, had signed an “agreement in principle” with Romanian authorities to open a branch in Bucharest, probably in the middle of 1974, according to the New York Times. At that time, he said that this would be the first actual Western banking branch in a Soviet‐bloc country.

American rabbi Arthur Schneier also met on several occasions with Ceausescu.

“Schneier, who is also president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, met with Ceausescu at the offices of the Communist Party Central Committee in Bucharest. They reviewed current problems on the international scene which, Ceausescu stressed, required supreme efforts for peaceful resolution of conflicts. In that connection, he underlined the need to combat neo-fascist, terrorist and racist activities and deplored the new anti-Semitic manifestations in various parts of the world, the WJC reported,” according to an article published by

Matters related to the Jewish community in Romania were on the agenda during talks between Schneier and Ceausescu, according to media reports.

According to a presentation posted on the foundation’s website, Schneier is internationally known for “his leadership on behalf of religious freedom, human rights and tolerance with specific interest in China, Russia, Central Europe and the Balkans.”

Ceausescu went to the US four times and had official talks with three American presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. He visited the US two times during the Nixon administration.

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