(Washington, DC) Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life joins the family of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), his district and the nation in mourning his passing earlier today at age 80. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, was a champion of human rights and the State of Israel. He recently credited Hillel with playing an important role in his rise from Holocaust refugee to chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman Tom Lantos.
"In our 85 years of service to Jewish college students, Hillel has had many success stories, but none is more moving than that of our dear friend Congressman Lantos," said Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone. "As a university professor and a statesman, he took the gifts of freedom and education and shared them with the world."
Lantos was born in Budapest, Hungary, on February 1, 1928. He was 16 years old when Nazi Germany occupied his native country. As a teenager, he was a member of the anti-Nazi underground and later of the anti-Communist student movement.
In 1947 Hillel provided the young Tom Lantos with a scholarship to an American university, enabling him to come to the United States. He was one of 124 such students who participated in Hillel's Refugee Student Program which began in 1938. At the time, Lantos wrote: "I am perfectly satisfied for having the opportunity of learning, working and for having a warm home. Now I can fully realize what is the meaning of this word Hillel! Goodness, warmth and love, those feelings that we so desperately miss in the morally destroyed Europe."
Lantos received a B.A. and M.A. in Economics from the University of Washington in Seattle and later earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to his service in Congress, Lantos was a professor of economics, an international affairs analyst for public television, and a consultant to a number of businesses for three decades (1950-1980). He also served in senior advisory roles to members of the United States Senate.
Tom Lantos with Hillel students in March 2007.
In March 2007 Hillel presented Lantos with a petition signed by 12,000 individuals urging Congress and the Bush Administration to continue their support of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran.
In accepting the petition, Lantos said: "It says wonderful things about Hillel, which took a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and gave him an opportunity. And it says wonderful things about this country because nowhere else could a penniless Jew from Budapest, a survivor of the Holocaust make a life for himself first in academe and then in government and end up as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. What [Hillel is] doing is unbelievably important."
Watch the video of Lantos accepting the petition.
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