Thomas Peter Lantos (Lantos Tamás Péter, Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈlɒntoʃ ˈtɒmaːʃ ˈpeːtɛr]) was born to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. Even after moving to the United States, his English had a marked Hungarian accent.
Many of his family members were teachers, including an uncle who was a professor at the University of Budapest, and his grandmother who was a high school principal. His life in Hungary would change after Germany invaded Austria in 1938, with the Austrian border just 100 miles from Budapest.
Thomas Peter „Tom“ Lantos remembered this period and a newspaper headline he read when he was only 10, „Hitler Marches into Austria.“ Even at a young age, he understood the significance of this invasion:
„I sensed that this historic moment would have a tremendous impact on the lives of Hungarian Jews, my family, and myself.„
Six years later, in March 1944, the German military invaded Hungary and occupied Budapest, its capital.
Thomas Peter „Tom“ Lantos, then 16, was arrested because he was Jewish and sent to a forced labor camp outside of Budapest. He escaped but was soon caught by the Germans and beaten severely, to be returned to the labor camp. He again escaped but this time made his way back to Budapest, 40 miles away. There, he hid with an aunt in a safe house set up by Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat.
Thomas Peter „Tom“ Lantos then joined the „resistance movement“ and was able to move around freely due to his having blond hair and blue eyes, which to the Nazis were physical signs of Aryanism. As a result, he acted as a courier for the underground movement and delivered food and medicine to Jews living in other safe houses.
There Thomas Peter „Tom“ Lantos met his future wife, Annette Tillemann. In January 1945, less than year later, Russian military forces fought door-to-door battles and liberated Hungary from occupation. However, Thomas Peter „Tom“ Lantos, then 17, returned home only to discover that his mother and other family members had all been killed by the Germans, along with other Hungarian Jews, during the preceding 10 months of their occupation. Wallenberg, for his part, was later credited with saving the lives of thousands of other Hungarian Jews.
Lantos described some of his experiences in the Academy Award winning documentary film, The Last Days (1998), produced by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. In his floor speeches as a congressman, he sometimes referred to himself as one of the few living members of Congress who had fought against fascism. In 1981, Lantos sponsored a bill making Wallenberg an Honorary Citizen of the United States and became a member of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
In January 2006 he traveled to Hungary and attended a ceremony commemorating the 61st anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest Ghetto. The event was held at the Great Synagogue in Budapest, today the largest synagogue in Europe.
Lantos wurde 1944 in ein ungarisches Arbeitslager in Szob gezwungen. Er flüchtete zurück nach Budapest, wo er sich in der Wohnung einer Tante versteckte, die in einem von Raoul Wallenberg geschützten „Sternhaus“ wohnte. Die meisten seiner Verwandten wurden Opfer der Verfolgung durch die ungarischen Judenforscher und Pfeilkreuzler. 1981 sorgte Lantos dafür, dass Wallenberg postum zum Ehrenbürger der Vereinigten Staaten ernannt wurde. Lantos wurde 1998 für den Dokumentarfilm Die letzten Tage interviewt.
Aufgrund seiner politischen Ansichten wurde Lantos als einer der liberaleren Kongressabgeordneten angesehen, u. a.:
- hielt er den Schutz der Menschenrechte für eine politische Aufgabe von zentraler Bedeutung,
- unterstützte er die Legalisierung des Schwangerschaftsabbruchs und die Stammzellenforschung,
- sprach er sich gegen die Konstituierung des PATRIOT Acts aus,
- unterstützte er die Rechte sexueller Minderheiten incl. Heirats- und Adoptionsrecht,
- sprach er sich gegen die Todesstrafe aus,
- sprach er sich für die Legalisierung sogenannter „weicher Drogen“ für medizinische Zwecke aus,
- sprach er sich für die Beschränkung des Waffenbesitzrechts aus.
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