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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 163

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This is the grave of Tom Lantos.

Lantos was born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1928. His family did not get out during the Holocaust. At the age of 16, Lantos was rounded up during the Hungarian part of the genocide and sent a forced labor camp. He escaped, was caught and sent back to the camp after a severe beating, and escaped again, ending up in one of Raoul Wallenberg’s safe houses. Because he looked Aryan, with blonde hair and blue eyes, Wallenberg’s network sent him on risky errands to deliver supplies to other hiding Jews. His entire family, however, was murdered by the Nazis.

Fluent in English, Lantos enrolled in the University of Budapest in 1946 and then won a Hillel Foundation scholarship to study in the United States. He attended the University of Washington, where I hope he avoided cheering for their vile and evil football team, and earned a BA in 1949 and an MA in 1950. He went on to get a PhD in Economics at the University of California-Berkeley in 1953. He became a professor at San Francisco State University but soon found himself advising liberal politicians and becoming an early version of a talking head. This all led to his successful run for Congress in 1980, replacing Tim Ryan, who was killed while investigating the Jonestown Massacre.

Lantos was a consistent liberal in Congress, with a special interest in international human rights issues. He was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was a strong environmentalist. He did make a very bad error in supporting the Iraq War in 2003 initially, although he soon regretted it and criticized the Bush administration. He also supported the 1991 Gulf War and overall can be characterized as a bit naive in terms of when presidents made war using human rights language, which he supported so strongly because of his own experiences that he could be taken advantage of by the Bushes seeking Democratic support for their wars. His peak influence came through chairing the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. His peak interests included religious freedom for people around the world, wanting Japan to apologize for World War II era sex slavery, and declaring Turkey’s genocide against Armenia to be exactly that. He wrote a published report on the decline of rights for religious minorities in India. He also pushed for greater American funding to fight HIV internationally. He was also a leader in Congress against the military junta in Burma. It should go without saying that Lantos was a huge supporter of Israel, to the point that he opposed American military aid to Egypt because he claimed that nation didn’t do enough to counter Hamas.

Lantos’ wife Annette, who I believe is still alive, was a big player in publicizing just what Raoul Wallenberg did for Hungarian Jews, helping make him a hero to human rights advocates today.

Lantos died in 2008 of esophageal cancer, a nasty way to go. Bono spoke at his memorial service. Perhaps we can forgive Lantos of the crime of giving Bono a platform.

Tom Lantos is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

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