- NAME: Tom Lantos
- OCCUPATION: U.S. Representative
- BIRTH DATE: February 01, 1928
- DEATH DATE: February 11, 2008
- EDUCATION: University of Budapest, University of Washington, Seattle, University of California, Berkeley
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Budapest, Hungary
- PLACE OF DEATH: Bethesda, Maryland
- Full Name: Thomas Peter Lantos
Best Known For
Tom Lantos was a 14-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of California, as well as the first and only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress.
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Tom Lantos was born on February 1, 1928, in Budapest, Hungary. When the Nazis occupied the Hungarian capital in March 1944, Lantos was sent to a labor camp, but escaped and joined the resistance. After the war, he received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and was elected to represent California in the U.S. House of Representatives—becoming the first and only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. Re-elected 13 times,
Lantos was a constant champion of human rights causes. He died in 2008.
Politician. Thomas Peter Lantos was born February 1, 1928, in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family. He is the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress. Lantos came from a family of teachers. One uncle was a professor at the University of Budapest and his grandmother was a high school principal. Lantos said he vividly remembered the first newspaper he ever bought at age ten. On March 13, 1938, while walking home from school, he was struck by the headline: "Hitler Marches into Austria!"
"I sensed that this historic moment would have a tremendous impact on the lives of Hungarian Jews, my family, and myself," he said. Lantos was 16 when Nazi Germany occupied the Hungarian capital in March 1944. He was sent to a labor camp in Szob, a small village about 40 miles north of Budapest. He and his fellow inmates were forced to maintain a key bridge on the Budapest-Vienna rail line. Lantos escaped, was captured and beaten, escaped a second time and returned to Budapest. He found refuge with an aunt, who lived in a safe house operated by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who used his official status and visa-issuing powers to save thousands of Hungarian Jews (in 1981, Lantos sponsored a bill making Wallenberg an Honorary Citizen of the U.S.).
Lantos quickly joined the anti-Nazi resistance. Because of his "Aryan" coloring (blond hair and blue eyes), he was able to move around Budapest in a military cadet's uniform, secretly delivering life-saving food and medicine to other Jews in various safe houses. After a month-long, house-to-house battle, the Russians liberated Budapest in January 1945. Lantos tried to locate his mother and members of his family, but he gradually came to realize they had perished. His experiences in the Holocaust and afterward were highlighted in the Academy Award winning documentary The Last Days (1998) produced by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation.
After the war, Lantos reunited with childhood friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, Annette Tillemann. She had gone into hiding with her mother shortly after the German occupation and escaped to Switzerland. They married in June 1950.
Lantos enrolled at the University of Budapest in the fall of 1946. After writing an essay on the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was awarded a Hillel Foundation scholarship to study in the United States. He arrived in New York City in August 1947 with only a prized Hungarian salami which was promptly confiscated by U.S. customs officials.
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