WASHINGTON — Fleeing a civil war and hoping to make their way to Israel, 20,000 Jews arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, five years ago with no place to live and little to eat.
Robert Frasure, then deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, hopped on a truck and helped embassy staffers unload tents and high-protein food rations for a makeshift refugee camp.
He later helped bring about the agreement with the Ethiopian government that enabled the 1991 secret airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, known as Operation Solomon.
Frasure, 53, was one of three U.S. diplomats who died outside Sarajevo on Saturday, when the armored vehicle the three were traveling in skidded off a mountain road and exploded.
Joseph Kruzel, 50, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO affairs, and Air Force Col. Samuel Nelson Drew, 47, a National Security Council aide, also died in the crash.
Frasure, the deputy assistant secretary of state who served as special American envoy to the former Yugoslavia, was killed as he tried to bring his peacemaking skills to the Balkan conflict.
Back in May 1990, at the height of the Ethiopian civil war, 20,000 Jews fled the Gondar Province. When they arrived in Addis Ababa in June and July of 1990, American groups working for Ethiopian Jewry turned to the U.S. Embassy to help set up a temporary camp to process and house the refugees while they waited to depart for Israel.
Jewish activists involved with Operation Solomon praised Frasure for his instrumental efforts in securing the exodus to Israel.
"He fully understood the Jewish community's desire to go to Israel, and he did everything he could to help," said William Recant, who served at the time as the director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews.
"He was a true humanitarian and friend of the Jewish people," said Recant, now the Washington, D.C., representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.), who headed the U.S. government effort to resolve the conflict in Ethiopia, said: "We Jews lost a good friend in that man. Not everyone in the State Department and the National Security Council were committed to [rescuing] the black Jews of Ethiopia.
"He was totally committed because he thought it was his job and the right thing to do."
President Bush awarded Frasure the Presidential Medal for Exceptional Service for his efforts to bring peace to Ethiopia and for his humanitarian work that allowed safe passage for Ethiopian Jews to Israel.