Bono, Wiesel pay tribute to Tom Lantos in Washington

Livni recalled Lantos's strong support for the State of Israel, which he visited on scores of occasions.

Lantos 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lantos 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Tom Lantos lived through horror and tragedy, but he died at peace, satisfied with his lifetime of devotion to furthering human rights and universal justice so that others wouldn't experience what he had. So recalled his many colleagues, relatives and friends - statesmen, congressional leaders and global celebrities among them - who gathered in the Capitol Thursday to honor a man who survived the Holocaust and went on to become the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives. "In the hours before he left us, members of our family gathered at his hospital bedside, and as he surveyed the tear-streaked faces in front of him, he began to speak," his grandson Tomicah Tillemann said of his time with Lantos before his death Monday. "'If you knew how happy I was,' Lantos said, 'you would not be sad. I am completely at peace with what I have accomplished for my family and my country.'" Lantos left behind his wife of 57 years, his childhood sweetheart from his native Budapest, two daughters and 17 grandchildren, as well as a legacy of championing human rights and fighting for international action to stop genocides. His deeds and character were enumerated by a stream of speakers, who were themselves a tribute to Lantos's broad impact. The eulogizers included Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and human rights activist Bono of the U2 music group. In honor of Lantos's devotion to both his wife and his Hungarian heritage, Bono lead the crowd in an a cappella performance of "All you need is love," by "the famous Hungarian folk singer Jahn von Lennon," a moniker that elicited smiles from the otherwise somber audience. They joined him in singing, as Livni, who sat next to the musician during the ceremony, stomped her foot in time. Livni recalled Lantos's strong support for the State of Israel, which he visited on scores of occasions, including his last trip this past August. At an Israel Air Force base, they watched a documentary on Israeli pilots flying over a former concentration camp. "We saw the planes cut through the skies of Auschwitz - those same skies that absorbed the smoke of the crematoria; those same skies that did not hear the roar of the fighter planes in time, were hearing them now," Livni recalled. "And in my eyes, the Star of David, that was transformed from a yellow Star of David on the torn clothing of a victim into a shining blue Star of David emblazoned on an American Air Force jet and flown by an Israeli fighter pilot - that shining Star is Tom Lantos." Though Israel and America held special places in the congressman's heart, he was concerned for human beings everywhere, as many speakers noted. "For Tom, freedom was not just an abstract idea. His advocacy for was a moral calling," said Rice. "He truly embodied what it meant to have one's freedom denied, to strive for it and then, upon gaining it, not just to love America for one's self but to insist that America would stand up for those who still denied and were denied the blessings of freedom." "Standing here, I can see him looking at us with those piercing yet compassionate eyes and saying, all right, you can pause for a moment to remember me, but then you must resume the struggle for rights and liberties for oppressed peoples. Do not forget the downtrodden, and fight every day until every man and woman on the Earth enjoys the dignity of liberty," Rice said. Two fellow Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Arthur Schneier and author Elie Wiesel, closed the ceremony. Wiesel reflected on what their shared past had left them, and how that informed Lantos's subsequent actions. "If we remember suffering, our own and that of others, only to bring more suffering into the world, we would betray it," he said. "The only response to the tragedy is simply to remember it for the sake of our children, and children everywhere. Simply, because it happened, it must never happen again anywhere to anyone, and that was, of course, the meaning of your endeavors, the goal of your battles." Those battles, with the help of Lantos's own memory, would continue, declared Wiesel. "You have done so much for so many. And yet there is still a lot to be done. It will be difficult without you, but your example will be followed, not only by your friends, by your colleagues, by your allies - and there are so many - but by men and women who never met you. Oh yes, we will continue. But it won't be the same."