Monday, February 11, 2008

Rep. Tom Lantos Passes Away

Rep. Tom Lantos a"h passed away earlier today. Lantos, a Democrat from California, was the only Holocaust survivor ever to have served in Congress. He was born in Budapest and was 16 years old when the Nazis occupied Hungary. (He never lost his Hungarian accent.) Lantos escaped twice from a labor camp and became part of the group of Hungarian Jews who were saved by Raoul Wallenberg. After the war, he came to the United States and spent years working as a college professor, a business consultant, and a TV news commentator. He was elected to Congress in 1980, founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and became chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was always a strong, outspoken supporter of Israel and of human rights causes around the world. In other words, Tom Lantos was a real mensch.

That's not to say that I agree with every position that he took (he met with Moammar Gadhafi in Libya a few years ago, not such a great idea IMHO).

But I've always been an admirer of his. My parents and grandparents were Hungarian, too, and I'm a sucker for the accent (it sounds like home to me). Lantos always spoke so proudly of being Jewish and of being American. I saw a documentary once that showed elderly Holocaust survivors who traveled back to Hungary to visit their hometowns, taking their children or grandchildren with them. Lantos was one of the people featured in the film, and I was touched by the obvious respect and affection that he and his young grandchildren exhibited toward each other. He seemed to be a very genuine person, a man of conviction. He always said that he was very lucky to have become an American. I think that America was lucky to have had him.

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