For me to be where I am, given my background, is something I cannot possibly believe. Fifty years ago, I was a hunted animal in the jungle, and now I am dealing with issues of state of a country I love so deeply. It all seems like a dream, and it places an incredible sense of responsibility on me. It is why I will carry on.
Tom Lantos was born to Pal and Anna Lantos in Budapest, Hungary, on February 1, 1928. Despite having a long-standing alliance with Hungary, German soldiers occupied the country in 1944, and immediately began the systematic deportation of Hungarian Jews to concentration camps. Tom's parents and most of his extended family were sent to Auschwitz, and ultimately perished in the Holocaust. The Germans chose to send Tom to a forced labor camp in Szob, Hungary instead. He and his fellow laborers were forced to rebuild and maintain a bridge that was frequently bombed by Allied planes. One day, all the workers except Tom were killed by Allied bombs while working on the bridge.
Tom made two escape attempts from the German labor camp. He was caught the first time and beaten severely. The second attempt met with success, and Tom found safe haven with his aunt who was living in a Budapest safe house provided by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.1 Lantos joined Wallenberg's underground resistance group. His blue eyes and ���Aryan��� features allowed him to travel about Budapest, delivering goods to Jews who were in hiding, without raising the suspicion of German soldiers. Wallenberg's efforts led to the survival of approximately 100,000 Hungarian Jews.
In 1945, after the liberation of Budapest by the Russians in 1945, Tom began studying medicine at the University of Budapest. He later switched to the study of economics, and in the summer of 1947 he was awarded an academic scholarship to study at the University of Washington. Around this same time, Tom's childhood friend and future wife, Annette Tillemann, returned to Budapest to find him. She and her mother had escaped to Switzerland when the Germans occupied Hungary. Like Tom, she discovered that many members of her family, including her father, had also perished in the Nazi death camps.
Life in the United States:
In August of 1947, Tom arrived penniless in New York City after a week-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean on board a converted military troop transport. From New York City he made his way to Seattle, Washington, in order to study economics at the University of Washington. In 1950, he earned his M.A. in economics and moved to San Francisco in order to work towards his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. That summer Tom also married Annette Tillemann, his childhood friend from Budapest.
Tom lived in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife from 1950 until his death on February 11, 2008. For thirty years, from 1950 to 1980, he taught economics at San Francisco State University. From 1981 to 2008, he served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California's 12th District. One of his first actions as a Congressman was to initiate legislation to make Raoul Wallenberg an honorary American citizen. Throughout his tenure as a Congressman, Tom worked tirelessly to put an end to human rights abuses throughout the world. He was a co-founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and was the Democratic co-chairman since its founding. Additionally, he was the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Tom also served as a member of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. He was also a former Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Security, International Organizations, and Human Rights.
The central focus of my life, obviously, is human rights, because I am convinced that this is really the path of a more civilized world.