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April 15, 2012
Katrina Lantos Swett
President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice
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Info: Katrina Lantos Swett discusses her role as President and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. Swett talks about her father, the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and his contributions as founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, now renamed the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. She tells the story of how her mother Annette and her father escaped German labor camps with assistance from Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenburg. Her parents then came to the United States from Hungary. She relates her concerns over the current leadership in Russia pulling the country away from democracy, and shares her admiration for the Dalai Lama and his contributions to human rights. Mrs. Swett discusses her failed campaign for the Democratic nomination to represent New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional district in 2010. She talks about her husband Richard Swett’s service as Ambassador to Denmark from 1998 to 2001, and member of Congress from New Hampshire’s 2nd district for two terms in 1990. She discusses raising seven children, graduating from Yale University, and her conversion to Mormonism.

Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
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BRIAN LAMB: Katrina Lantos Swett, what do you remember most about your father? BRIAN LAMB: Katrina Lantos Swett, what do you remember most about your father?

KATRINA LANTOS SWETT: Well, he was a larger-than-life figure. And I’m not sure it was fair of you to start out with such a personal question, because my father and I were very close, and I still miss him every single day.

What I remember about him was a kind of profound integrity that he had, because, you know, I’ve always viewed integrity as basically meaning you’re the same person on the inside that you portray on the outside. And that was really true of my father. He was a remarkable man.

He was very brilliant. And growing up in that household was fascinating. I have to say – and I hope I’m not stealing a question for down the road, but my very first job out of law school was working in the Senate. And people would say to me, oh, you know, it must be so fascinating, all these dynamic, you know, figures that stand 10 feet tall, and it was all of those things, but I remember thinking at the time, ”I’m not sure too many of these guys hold a candle to my dad,” in terms of just sheer brilliance and grasp of the issues.

LAMB: Let’s show the audience who your father was, so that everybody is on the same level here.

SWETT: Oh, absolutely.


REP. TOM LANTOS (R), CALIFORNIA: Prior to my wife, Annette’s, years-long campaign, he was almost totally unknown. He saved untold thousands of innocent human lives. He left behind the comfort, safety, affluence of Stockholm to go to Budapest to do his utmost to stand between the Nazi war machine and tens of thousands of its intended and innocent victims. And he saved a vast number of them, my wife and myself included.


LAMB: Who’s he talking about?

SWETT: He’s talking about Raoul Wallenberg, who was the great Swedish humanitarian who at the height of the Nazi occupation of Budapest – and Hungary, you need to remember, had been a German ally, but they became a shaky ally. They were occupied by the Germans, and, of course, the final solution began to be implemented in Hungary and was implemented in Hungary, with Budapest, the heart of the country, being the last place where the Jews would be completely annihilated.

And Wallenberg came – you know, the scion of one of Sweden’s most powerful families, kind of like the Rockefellers of the United States, and he could have easily lived out the war in the safety of neutral Sweden. He was not Jewish. His only connection to these poor future victims of the Nazi death machine was his humanity, his shared humanity. And they called him their Moses from the north.

And he came to Hungary and initiated a number of incredibly daring and very innovative efforts to save the lives of innocent Hungarian Jews, including both of my parents. He invented what was called the protective passport, the Schutz-Pass, which was really nothing more than a charade, in some ways. It was a document that said the bearer of this pass has permission from the Royal Swedish government to emigrate to Sweden and is under the protection of Sweden.

A flimsy piece of paper, and yet that piece of paper saved incredible thousands of lives, because not only did Wallenberg do this, but he persuaded many of his colleagues in the diplomatic corps to also begin issuing similar protective passports.

He rented so-called safe houses, where he hung the Swedish flag, and sort of tried to extend that notion of extraterritoriality, diplomatic protection to these apartment buildings and structures, and then crammed as many people in – excuse me – as possible. And my father, after escaping from a slave labor camp, was able to make his way to a Wallenberg safe house.

Now, they were safe only to a point, and every so often, they would be raided. And if Wallenberg wasn’t there personally to protect and defend them, many people were taken from these houses. But it provided a measure of protection.

And then sometimes he would go, when he was notified, got wind of a deportation, a train about to leave from the train station, he would go personally with his driver. And he must have been a man of enormous personal charisma and strength, because he would demand to be let on the trains. He would say, ”I have information that Swedish citizens or people under the protection of my government are on this transport, and I demand that you let me on to find them.”

And they often would. And he would go onto these cars packed with the hopeless and the doomed, and he would say, ”I’m Raoul Wallenberg.” And as I say, he was the Moses of the north. He said, ”I know there are people here with protective passports. Produce them, please, and I will take you with me.”

And some people did have them, but others had nothing, but they would pull out a laundry ticket, they would pull out something, and in the rush and in the crush, he would examine, he’d say, ”Yes, this is one of mine, this is one of mine.”

And, you know, it must have been heartbreaking at the same time, because he could only save a few at a time that way, but he was a remarkable man. And my parents made it their cause, really, beginning with my mother to find out what happened to Wallenberg. He was arrested by the Soviets when Budapest fell and disappeared. And for many years, the Russians claimed he had died early on in their custody.

But as late as the 1970s, rumors and evidence and information was leaking out that there was a Swede in Soviet prisons or in Soviet mental hospitals by the name of Wallenberg who would tell anyone who would listen to them, ”My only crime was saving Jews. Tell them I’m alive. Tell them I’m alive.”

So my mother founded the Free Wallenberg Committee as soon as she found this out and became a crusader to try and find out if he was alive, to try and have him freed. And my father’s very first act upon being elected to Congress in the 1980 election was to introduce legislation making Raoul Wallenberg an honorary U.S. citizen, only – at that time, only the second person after Winston Churchill to be so honored by our government.

And 2012 is the centennial year of his birth. So the Lantos Foundation, which I am the president of, in conjunction with the Swedish government and the Hungarian government and the Israeli government and the U.S. Congress, is really engaged in a year-long series of commemorative events to honor one of the singular humanitarians of the 20th century.

And I had the most extraordinary personal moment a year ago in August, when my first granddaughter was born on Raoul Wallenberg’s birthday, on what would have been his 99th birthday. Interestingly, she was born in not Sweden, but a neighboring country in Copenhagen, and her name is Nellie Isabella. And, you know, the first time I looked at her, I just thought of the old saying from the Talmud that he who saves a life, it is as if he saves the world entire.

And I thought of this brave young Jewish boy and this beautiful young Jewish girl saved by this incredible Swedish hero and how now, not that many generations later, a little girl was born, beautiful, fabulous little girl, thanks to him, on his birthday, which happens also to be President Obama’s birthday. So my granddaughter has some very distinguished soul mates to live up to.

LAMB: Believe it or not, you first came to our attention not because of your father, but because of seeing you on this network talking, and we asked you to come, and it turns out that there’s a lot more to talk about. We’ll come back to some of this at some point, but first thing. Where do you live?

SWETT: I live in a little town called Bow, New Hampshire, which – its main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy. And it’s just outside of Concord, our capital.

LAMB: Who are you married to?

SWETT: I’m married to a wonderful guy by the name of Dick Swett. And when I first heard his name, I thought, ”Who gives that kind of a name to their kid? What kind of cruel parent names their child Dick Swett?” And little did I know I would end up marrying him.

But Dick is from New Hampshire. And when I met him, many years ago in 1977 – this year will be – we’ll have been married 32 years – he prided himself on saying that, you know, he would never have anything to do with lawyers or politicians, because they were both very much in the suspect category in his worldview. And he now likes to joke that he married and lawyer and became a politician, because he ended up running for Congress and served in Congress for a few terms from New Hampshire.

LAMB: When did he serve?

SWETT: He was elected in 1990 and served to 1994. He was one of those moderates that was swept out in the Gingrich revolution.

LAMB: And how did he get to be ambassador to Denmark?

SWETT: Well, Dick was nominated by President Clinton I think, you know, for a number of reasons. And he did a spectacular job as ambassador to Denmark. But he had lost his seat in 1994 in part, I think, because he cast what was a very difficult, but a very courageous vote supporting the assault weapons ban, which was, you know, a tough thing to do from a state like New Hampshire. And so I think probably President Clinton felt a degree of appreciation that he had been willing to put what he thought was the good of the country and sort of his principles against – very much against his political interests.

And, you know, that was a tough experience. He had death threats, at times had to campaign wearing a – you know, a bulletproof vest on the advice of local police, who had gotten calls saying, you know, Swett better watch it, we’re going to take a shot at him.

And I remember – because we have a big family, and some of our kids were pretty young then – and it was a really very difficult campaign, because there was a lot of, you know, very vitriolic, very violent taunts and nastiness directed at my husband at that time. And I was dressing the kids to go to a parade, and...

LAMB: By the way, how many are there?

SWETT: Well, we have seven, and no twins. You know, one at a time. So we’ve been very fortunate in that regard.

LAMB: And they’re all yours? You didn’t adopt them?

SWETT: They’re all ours. No, no, you know, one at a time. And – and one of my younger children – I think it was our daughter, Chante, sort of looked at me as I was putting them in their patriotic little matching T-shirts and said, ”Mommy, is this going to be one of the parades where people heckle us?”

And, you know, as a parent, that’s the kind of question that in a way is almost like a dagger at your heart. You think, oh, my gosh, is this, you know, fair to the kids? Is this what we want to expose them to?

But I remember in – you know, we started talking about my father and my mother thinking, absolutely, not because I want them to have the unpleasantness of people heckling them, but I want them to understand that when you do the right thing, you don’t always get a pat on the back. You don’t always have people saying, ”Huzzah,” you know, ”Three cheers for you.”

Sometimes when you do what you believe to be the right thing, you do get criticized or even attacked. And that’s when, you know, your family needs to be there and stand with you and show their support.

LAMB: When did you lose your dad?

SWETT: Dad died four years ago.

LAMB: And mom?

SWETT: My mother is not only alive and well, but she serves as chairman of the Lantos Foundation and really directs the work that we do, because, really, right after my father passed away, my mother, my sister, and I determined that we wanted to establish a foundation to carry on his legacy, very specifically as a real fighter for human rights. My father founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which we’re very proud and grateful to say has since been renamed the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, so that’s...

LAMB: And run now – co-chairmen are...

SWETT: The co-chairman are Congressman McGovern and Congressman Wolf.

LAMB: A Democrat and a Republican?

SWETT: Exactly.

LAMB: I want to show what your mother is like, so that they can see the resemblance. Here’s a clip of...

SWETT: You flatter me. There’s no bigger compliment than looking like my mom.

LAMB: Let’s watch.


ANNETTE LANTOS: He was not very much of a partisan person. To him, it wasn’t a question of Republican or Democrats. To him, it was a question of Communists or Nazis or the West. So he could never get very anxious and excited about party politics, you know? This was to him either democracy or communism or Nazism. These were the big options, you know, that – and he was basically always fighting for democracy. And he felt, you know, that was the core value of his existence.


LAMB: Are you like her?

SWETT: Am I like my mother? Well, as I say, it’s incredibly flattering to me when people say that I am. She is also an incredibly brilliant person, very different from my father in certain ways. He was an intellectual and an agnostic. My mother has always been a very spiritual person. And while very brilliant, she’s more intuitive, I think, than my father tended to be, although he had good intuitions, as well.

But she is passionate. And I think really the whole family – and now, you know, it extends out to not just her children, but her grandchildren – we do have this incredible commitment to human rights. It’s sort of the central value that our family as a family believes in.

And I think it does come from my father, obviously. But as she said in that clip, you know, he tended to view things in that big-picture sense of, you know, democracy, you know, battling against other ideologies, freedom and advancing a world in which sort of democratic principles held sway.

And my mother was the one who sort of took that big picture and helped my father to understand and recognize that it’s meaningless unless it is changing the lives of human beings, unless it’s bettering their lives.

LAMB: One of the things in your background is the fact that you converted to Mormonism, and you were born of two Jewish parents.


LAMB: What year did you do this, and why?

SWETT: Well, and – I guess I would preface my remarks by saying I very much consider myself to be Jewish. And my children very much consider themselves to be Jewish.

LAMB: Do they practice?

SWETT: Well, they – you know, we honor both traditions in our family, is I guess the way that I would put it. But it was actually my mother who converted to Mormonism when I was a young child. And so I really did have sort of the blessing and opportunity of being raised with a very rich – and I guess it’s kind of a very American sort of an experience, that ability to create a hybrid of who you are and – and what you believe. You know...

LAMB: Is your husband a Mormon?

SWETT: My husband is, yes.

LAMB: So were you attracted to him because of the Mormon religion?

SWETT: Well, no, no, I wasn’t, because he actually joined the Mormon Church after he met me...


SWETT: ... so, you know – and it’s very much a part of our life. I think that actually the Latter-Day Saint faith is an interesting one within kind of the spectrum of Christian denominations because it is very closely connected in some ways to Judaism. There are more ties there than in some of the other denominations. There’s less of a sense of, you know, Old Testament, New Testament, and sort of a sharp break between them. But I’m – and there are other really wonderful, strong similarities between these two groups as peoples...

LAMB: Let me ask you this, though. There are about 14 million Jews in the world, and there are about 11 million, 12 million Mormons in the world. Out of 313 million people in this country, that makes it a very small part of the world.

SWETT: It is.

LAMB: Do you feel that when you go about your life? Do you feel any of the discrimination and the – and I would throw in there – what does it mean that Mitt Romney is a Mormon? And what should the country know about the religion?

SWETT: Well, a lot of commentators have spoken about this as sort of a Mormon moment in American history, and obviously when you have someone with such national prominence now as Governor Romney – and, you know, running to be president of the United States – that focuses the attention of people on a group that has been, you know, somewhat marginalized and perhaps viewed more – or seen more through the lens of the exotic things about their history, which is not part of our family tradition, because, you know, we didn’t come for that Mormon pioneer background.

I think, you know, you ask whether I have experienced personally discrimination. And I think that would be too strong of a word. But having been myself in public life a little bit and having run for office, I did find that there were on occasion people who felt at liberty to make assumptions or cast aspersions based on their – their presumptions about what you believe.

You know, I happen to be a Democrat. When I ran, I happened to run as a pro-choice woman, because I am pro-choice. And I would frequently have that sort of challenge and people suggest that that wasn’t true. And I would say, well, now, why would you say that? ”Well, you have seven children.” I said, well, you know, the essence of being pro-choice is that – that women should be able to choose for themselves in these matters. And then sometimes it would come up, well, you know, your beliefs make us skeptical.

And so, you know, you – I think I suppose everybody runs into those kinds of preconceptions and a certain willingness to distort your point of view to fit those preconceptions.

But in terms of the country sort of looking at the Latter-Day Saint community now, because of the Romney candidacy, I think for the most part people will like and approve of what they see. You know, it’s certainly a community that has shown a lot of strength, both in terms of, you know, focusing on building strong families, personal responsibility, high levels of patriotism, devotion to country, a lot of generosity. You know, they tend to give a lot of service, contribute in financial and other ways in their communities.

LAMB: Do you have to tithe the 10 percent every year? Is that...

SWETT: Nobody has to do anything. You know, probably the single most dominant theological doctrine in the Latter-Day Saint faith, apart from its sort of – you know, its Christian morns would be this notion of freedom and free choice. And sometimes it’s referred to within the LDS context as free agency.

But it’s this essential notion that probably the most important thing to God is the freedom of his sons and daughters here on Earth, because he sort of put us in an environment where every choice is ours to make. I think lots of, you know, observant, if you want to use that word, Latter-Day Saints do pay a significant tithe.

LAMB: I want to show you in your professional world, just back in 2011, talking about a subject that’s pretty topical right now.


SWETT: Despite the careful cultivation of an – certainly from a Western perspective, the almost comically narcissistic cult of personality that has been built up around the new macho, bear-chested czar, despite all of this disturbing and authoritarian manipulation or, perhaps, because of it, when the Russian people themselves had a chance to give their verdict on Putin’s party, their answer was unmistakable: Nyet.


LAMB: However, he won again.


LAMB: Why were you talking about him? And how does he fit into the whole discussion of human rights?

SWETT: Well, you know, Putin, obviously, over, you know, the past number of years has been pulling Russia back towards authoritarian and away from genuine and bona fide democracy. And on a whole series of criteria – rule of law, corruption, free and fair elections, a free media – and we could go on – Russia has been retreating, not advancing, and that’s a cause of enormous concern, and Putin has been, you know, leading this retreat from the democracy that I think we in the West had hoped was taking root in Russia.

Through the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, we’ve been particularly active and involved in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He is the Russian billionaire, formerly billionaire, who was Russia’s most successful and wealthiest businessman, the head of Yukos Oil, who became a target of Putin not because of his wealth and not because of his success in business, but as he began – you know, like many of the other oligarchs in Russia, he sort of got his start during that Wild, Wild East period, when Russia was making a very messy and a very uneven and a very unregulated transition from communism to a free-market economy.

But unlike a lot of the other oligarchs, Khodorkovsky sort of had – if not a ”Road to Damascus” moment, you know, where the skies parted, he had an evolution where he was becoming somebody who absolutely saw that Russia’s future lay in becoming a genuinely modern society, both economically and politically.

So he began moving Yukos Oil to becoming a completely legitimate, Western-styled company, with an independent board of directors, and bona fide audits, and transparency, and paying taxes. I believe it paid more taxes than any other corporate entity in Russia.

And then in the political arena, he saw that, you know, this one-party and one-man rule was taking Russia backwards, and so he was providing support and funding for bona fide opposition parties. And this was unacceptable.

And so he became the target of an utterly politicized legal prosecution/persecution, was convicted, had served at that point about eight years in prison on his sentence and was due to be released.

And the first trial had been a sham, but then a second round of charges were brought, which were absurdities. You know, if the first trial was a sham, but you could say, well, yes, maybe some taxes weren’t paid. You know, maybe – nobody was paying them, and maybe that was understood, but maybe this, that and the other. But everybody acknowledged in the European Court of Human Rights and elsewhere that it was a complete kangaroo court and a kangaroo trial.

But Putin fears this man and has been determined to keep him locked up. And it’s fascinating, because in these now many long years of imprisonment – and he’s facing many additional years of imprisonment – Khodorkovsky has emerged as sort of – someone’s described him as a cross between the Count of Monte Cristo and Nelson Mandela. You know, he sort of had this fabulous wealth in the past, but now he’s become something quite different. He is this powerful voice, and powerful, in part, because he’s been willing to pay the price. He didn’t flee Russia. He didn’t run away as he might have, as many did, to sort of safety and security with their great wealth in the West. He chose to stay, and he’s a passionately, profoundly patriotic Russian, and people know that now about him.

And those of us who are – who view this as a major human rights case are hoping – and we don’t want to be too cynical, but Medvedev announced a week-and-a-half ago, he directed the state prosecutor to reopen the Khodorkovsky case, along with 30 others, to see if they were legitimate prosecutions. And we don’t know if this is just window dressing or may signal that both Putin and Medvedev understand that there is no way they can turn a page, no way they can sort of try to hit their own restart without confronting what is now the highest-profile political prisoner case in Russia.

LAMB: You alluded earlier to running for office. I know you ran for the Senate in 2008 and lost...

SWETT: I started to. No, I didn’t...

LAMB: You didn’t actually finish it?

SWETT: I didn’t run. You know, I was intending to run and had begun a campaign to run.

LAMB: Is it Governor Shaheen is there now in the Senate?

SWETT: Yes. And Governor Shaheen had – you know, we spoke. And when she shared with me that she had decided, after initially thinking she was not going to run, that, yes, she did want to run, I felt, you know, as a Democrat that she was probably our best chance. And it was hard. It was hard to step back from that; I won’t lie. Because it turned out that it was a great year to be running as a Democrat. And maybe you’d be interviewing me now as Senator Swett.

We had a great slogan, by the way, in our campaign, which is, ”You work hard. They should, too. Make your Senator Swett.” And I just am – you know, I wanted to have a chance to use that slogan a little more. But – so I didn’t actually end up running. I initiated a campaign.

LAMB: But prior to that, you were involved in the Lieberman for President campaign.

SWETT: I was. I was.

LAMB: And how did you get into that?

SWETT: Well, you know, when you’re lucky enough to live in New Hampshire, it’s a very exciting place from which to be involved in our, you know, quadrennial drama of presidential politics, because New Hampshire is still the first primary state in the nation, and we do a heck of a job there. I want to give a shoutout to the Granite State, because I think we do, do a super job.

And so, you know, both my husband and I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of the outstanding Democratic candidates who were running that year. And, you know, Joe Lieberman, I think, is sort of in the tradition of what we used to call a long time ago Scoop Jackson Democrats. And that term I’m sure is familiar to you. It was familiar to me, because I’m not that young anymore. But it’s sort of fallen out of use.

But a Scoop Jackson Democrat very simply was – somebody was pretty, pretty tough on defense and foreign policy, but very progressive on domestic policy.

LAMB: Let’s show just a brief video from 2003, with both of your involvement.



SWETT: We have a curious situation here in New Hampshire where undeclared or independent voters can pick up a Democratic ballot when they go to vote. And so for the Lieberman campaign, we’re going to be targeting a lot of effort towards those folks. They tend to vote Republican, but they’re more moderate than the typical Republicans. And since there’s nothing going on, on the Republican side this year, we think they’re going to want to pick up a Democratic ballot, and we think Joe Lieberman is their kind of a candidate.


LAMB: Looking at the world as it’s developed, in your mind – and you ran for the House in 2010 – what is a Democrat today and what is a Republican?

SWETT: Hmm. What a – what a great question. Let me tell you why I’m a Democrat. And I’m not sure that would be true of others, but for me, I’m a Democrat because the most fundamental issue for me is whether we try to create a society in which the broad base of the middle class has a chance to, you know, find their American dream. And I think Democrats tend to believe that we best achieve that by focusing on policies that strengthen the middle class and open doors of opportunity to those who are trying to get into the middle class.

And perhaps traditionally, Republicans, you know, have more of that trickle-down notion of how you create a vibrant economy and a vibrant society for people.

I’m also a Democrat because I do believe, looking back over, you know, the modern history of the Democratic Party, that it is the party that has been at the leading edge of opening those doors of opportunity as widely as possible. When I ran for Congress, I often talked about my parents coming here as literally penniless immigrants, with nothing.

LAMB: What year?

SWETT: Well, they came in the late 1940s. But they found something incredibly valuable, and that was wide-open doors of opportunity. And they...

LAMB: Were they married when they came here?

SWETT: No, they got married in this country.

LAMB: Did they know each other before they came here?

SWETT: They were childhood sweethearts. They were literally childhood sweethearts. And that’s a Hollywood story, that one day I’m going to get one of my kids who’s a good writer to tell, because it – you know, it’s really, you know, a wartime love story of beautiful, beautiful scope.

LAMB: Where did they land, by the way, when they got here?

SWETT: Well, my father landed in New York. He came on the USS Falconer, I think it was. And he used to tell the story of being on that boat. And, of course, he was pretty emaciated by the time he, you know, came over here. He came over, actually, on a scholarship. He won a scholarship to come study in the United States.

And they had a cafeteria on this boat, you know, a dining hall. And he had a tray and was going through the line to get food. And at the end of the line was a big bowl with fruit, you know, which was such a luxury, such a – such an incredible thing, and there were oranges, and there were bananas, and he desperately wanted one orange and one banana, but, you know, he thought, well, that’s certainly not going to be permitted.

But there was a soldier there, standing there, you know, I don’t know what he was doing there, but he was sort of one of the people helping run the ship. You know, it was a Navy ship, I guess. And my father, you know, very politely said, ”Excuse me, sir, are we to take just either an orange or a banana?” And my dad, with his charming Hungarian accent – I used to love to hear him tell this story – he would say that the soldier said to him – and I’ll try to do it like my father, ”Man, you can have all the oranges and all the bananas you want.”

And, you know, my father said, at that moment, he knew he was about to begin a different life from what he had just emerged from.

LAMB: Where did Mom come to this country?

SWETT: She came a little bit later. And my father by that time was living in Seattle, Washington. He was at the University of Washington. And so she came to Washington State.

LAMB: Now, while we’re on this a little bit, where were – what happened to both of them when either the Russians – or the Germans tried to exterminate the Jews? How did they get out of this and through Raoul Wallenberg?

SWETT: Well, my mother and her mother were saved through – by Raoul Wallenberg through a protective passport. Their protective passport was actually a Portuguese passport. And as I say, Wallenberg had persuaded other colleagues in the diplomatic corps to follow his example, so they were able actually to get out of Hungary on a false Portuguese passport, basically.

LAMB: They just handed them the passport?

SWETT: Well, no. I mean, it’s a very dramatic story, and probably it would take all the time we have, but...

LAMB: Has it ever been told, by the way, in print?

SWETT: It really hasn’t. It really hasn’t. But – but my mother comes from a very interesting and sort of glamorous family background in some senses. Her father had the largest jewelry store in all of Hungary. And she is cousins with the famed Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor. And one of the Gabor sisters – there were three of them. There was Zsa Zsa, Eva and Magda.

And Magda, who was the oldest, was actually by the family thought to be the most beautiful of all, although she never became an actress. But at that time, she was actually working at the Portuguese consulate. And so there was a connection there, and the family got to know the Portuguese consul general, and so it wasn’t just completely random. They did have a relationship there.

My father, as I say, had been taken to a slave labor camp. The Hungarian Jews were conscripted into these slave labor camps from which, you know, many of them did not survive. And my father escaped. He had escaped previously, been recaptured and badly, badly beaten, almost killed at that time, but he managed to escape a second time and made his way back to Budapest from the countryside.

And as I say, he ultimately found refuge in one of these safe houses, but he also – you know, he was blonde. He was blue-eyed. He looked very, quote, unquote, ”Aryan,” and so he was part of the Hungarian underground in that he would be used as a courier in a stolen Hungarian Arrow Cross uniform. The Arrow Cross was the Hungarian counterpart to the SS.

And so he, you know, would deliver messages, medicine, you know, sort of was a courier in the city, which was very, very dangerous. And there are some incredible stories we have of very close encounters, close calls he had.

LAMB: What’s the impact on you being the daughter of two holocaust survivors? Is there any?

SWETT: Oh, it’s profound. It’s profound. And as I say, it’s something I have tried to pass along to my children. I think it gives you enormous perspective on life. You learn to look at things through a very different lens.

In our family, not only did our family personally face, you know, existential threats to their existence, but they faced them as part of a targeted race. You know, it wasn’t – terrible things happen around the world everyday. And, you know, whether through violence or illness or car accidents, you know, we can think of terrible existential tragedies that befall families.

What made the holocaust so searing – and what I think makes its impact so profound on the subsequent generations – is that the threat, that existential threat, was targeted because of who our family was, because of being Jewish.

And so, you know, that’s why – you know, you asked earlier about sort of the very interesting combined faith traditions that we have in our family, that there’s no way that I could ever not be a Jew, ever not be Jewish, ever not profoundly, profoundly identify with at a very deep level that heritage of mine.

Too many of my forbearers through the millennia suffered so much to bring that tradition and that culture and that faith down to me and, by extension, to my children. So it’s very profound, and I do think it is one reason why human rights, because through the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights, that’s what I now do, is focus on human rights globally.

LAMB: I need – before we lose time – I have to ask you who these people are. And I’m going to name them slowly.

SWETT: Is this a test?

LAMB: It is, and you will have no difficulty with this test.


LAMB: Chelsea?


LAMB: Sebastian?


LAMB: Keaton?


LAMB: Chanteclaire? Kismet? Atticus? And Sunday?

SWETT: Well, those, of course, are the jewels in my crown. Those are my seven children. And there are marvelous stories behind each of those names. Chelsea – her middle name is Britannia, because she came very close to being born on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Sebastian is named for his great-grandfather, who was my mother’s father, killed in the holocaust, shot on the banks of the Danube. He’s now finishing up at Yale Law School. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he became a human rights fighter in his life.

LAMB: And you’re a Yale Law School graduate?

SWETT: I’m a Yale undergrad graduate.

LAMB: Undergrad. And where’d you get your law degree?

SWETT: At University of California, Hastings, yes.

LAMB: OK. Sorry. Go ahead.

SWETT: And his middle name is Amadeus, which means love for God.

LAMB: Keaton?

SWETT: Keaton is my third son and he is one of these bright and, we hope, very successful new Internet start-up guys, has a new company he started out in Palo Alto.

LAMB: Who was he named after?

SWETT: He was named after the English poet John Keats, because when he was born, he was so gorgeous, and John Keats was the one who said, ”A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” And I looked at him, and I said, ”We’ve got to name this guy after John Keats.”

LAMB: Chanteclaire?

SWETT: Chanteclaire, Chanteclaire Esprit, she was actually, you know, just somebody who I wanted to give a French name to. My mother’s name is Annette. My sister’s name is Annette. My first name is Yvonne. And we thought it was time for a French name in the family. And it means to sing clearly.

LAMB: Kismet?

SWETT: Kismet. Well, Chanteclaire, who we call Chante, was supposed to be the last of our children. And I had actually announced to everyone, oh, we have a perfect family, two boys, two girls. So when I found out I was expecting another child, I said, this is Kismet, this is destiny, because, you know, it’s a Turkish word that means fate or destiny. So that’s how she got that name.

LAMB: How old is she now?

SWETT: Kismet is 22.

LAMB: Atticus?

SWETT: Atticus. Well, Atticus was named for my great hero in the law – and I’m a lawyer by training – Atticus Finch. And I have to tell you his middle name, because he was named Atticus Omega, because by now we were two kids past the last child. And I said, you know, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end were done. And people who apparently knew me better than I knew myself said, ”You may want to change that last name. You know, it hasn’t kind of worked out up until now.”

And quite surprisingly, we did end up with one more amazing daughter, Sunday Phoenix. And we named her Sunday because...

LAMB: Sunday – Phoenix is her middle name?

SWETT: Sunday Phoenix is her middle name.

LAMB: Why?

SWETT: Well, the Sunday was because she was the end of a week’s worth of children. You know, if I’d known I was going to have seven, I would have named them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I didn’t know it at the time.

LAMB: By the way, did you ever know anybody that did that?

SWETT: You know, only in a book. There’s a wonderful book called ”Heckedy Peg,” and it’s a mother with seven kids named Monday through Sunday. But she was named Phoenix because she was born after my husband lost his re-election to Congress in 1994, in that very tough campaign I was talking about, and, you know, the Phoenix is a wonderful symbol.

LAMB: Now, you lost the 2010 race.

SWETT: I did. I did.

LAMB: Who did you run against?

SWETT: Well, I lost in the Democratic primary to a woman by the name of Ann Kuster. And, you know, it was – it was a good experience. You earlier asked, what’s a Democrat nowadays? And – and in the primaries in both parties, I think it’s increasingly the case that people who are proudly moderate and sort of proudly in the center of sort of that political spectrum, sometimes it’s a little – it’s a difficult place to be in a primary race.

And I think that that is understandable, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for our political system.

LAMB: How badly did you lose?

SWETT: Oh, I lost badly. I didn’t – I didn’t do very well, and I also decided, ”Maybe I’m not cut out for electoral politics.” I’ve done better managing campaigns. I managed my dad’s first campaign for Congress. I managed my husband’s first campaign for Congress. He when he was elected in 1990 was the first Democrat since the sinking of the Titanic to win that seat in New Hampshire, so I think I’ve come to recognize that, as much as I love the arena and I certainly am a policy wonk – because I’m a devotee of C-SPAN, and you and I both know what that means, you know, that we’re – we’re the real hardcore.

LAMB: It’s terminal.

SWETT: Well, I mean, I’m glad to hear it. I have no desire to be cured. And you’re a huge hero of mine. But, you know, I think maybe I can do more and contribute more not as a candidate.

LAMB: OK. You’ve alluded to the Lantos Foundation during the last few minutes. What is it?

SWETT: Well, it’s a human rights organization. And our specific mission is to work to see to it that human rights remain a central component of American foreign policy and that when we are evaluating our foreign policy moves globally, human rights can never be the only consideration, but it has to be part of the dialogue, because when we are reflecting our best values, we generally succeed. When we abandon our deepest values and that – you know, whether we’re talking about torture as it relates to the war on terror or – or the reset policy with Russia, you know, and – and the upcoming issue of whether or not the U.S. Congress should pass the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability Act, which is – we don’t need to go into the details of that policy issue, but whether or not we’re going to stay on record as saying human rights matter. They matter in Russia. They matter in China.

LAMB: How much money does the foundation have?

SWETT: Well, we’re very proud. We’ve been able to raise a – I mean, it’s a very small organization, but by our standards, it’s a substantial endowment. It’s – I won’t go into too much detail, but, you know, it’s close to an $8 million endowment.

LAMB: And how much of that do you spend every year?

SWETT: Well, we spend – you know, I want to try and be as accurate as possible. It’s been ramping up, obviously, each year.

LAMB: Just a rough idea.

SWETT: But, you know, in – you know, under $500,000. So we’re small. We like to think we punch above our weight. And we are able to leverage alliances and partnerships with other important human rights organizations.

LAMB: I want to ask you about somebody named the Dalai Lama, but first I want to run some video.



TOM LANTOS: Human rights are indivisible. And whether the rights of individuals are violated in the Soviet Union or Iran or Cuba or South Africa or Tibet, it is our responsibility as Republicans and Democrats in a free legislative body to stand up and to speak out against these outrages.

ANNETTE LANTOS: And then, of course, we got a big delegation came from the State Department, warning my husband that if he goes through with this invitation, we will be totally disrupting American foreign policy initiatives. And the State Department put a tremendous pressure on him to stop it.

But, of course, you know, the Congress is an independent body. And basically, my husband could tell the entire State Department delegation to go fly a kite. That’s what he did.


LAMB: I’ve got to be careful how I ask this, because it could be misinterpreted, but why is it that people fuss over the Dalai Lama? And the reason I ask it – first of all, this man has, I guess, retired, 14th Dalai Lama, but he was born into this. And people call him ”Your Holiness.” And he represents, what, 4 million, 5 million, 6 million people at most? Why is it that people give him so much respect?

SWETT: Well, the Dalai Lama – have you ever been with him or spent...

LAMB: I have not.

SWETT: You know, I think that – I hope you will have that opportunity, because he is certainly one of the great spiritual leaders of our time. And you very much sense that when you are in his presence.

And one of the things that’s always so remarkable to me is, in a place like Washington where really smart, eloquent, brilliant people are kind of dime a dozen and everybody’s a good talker, the Dalai Lama doesn’t fit that traditional profile of an inspirational leader, but it is – you know, both the power of his teachings, but even – I might say even more than that, the spirit that emanates from him, which is extraordinarily deep and profound and spiritual.

But there is another side to it, and that is that the nation of Tibet, as you know, is – has been, you know, really brutally repressed by the Chinese. This is an independent nation. It needs autonomy. It needs respect. There have been efforts at, you know, swamping the Tibetan homeland with Han Chinese to dilute the character of Tibet. The Dalai Lama had to flee for his life.

So it is about some pretty important political and human rights issues, as well. So it’s the convergence of him as a man of, you know, great intellect – I mean, his writings are very brilliant, very profound, but also deep, deep personal spirituality, but that has joined in a river with these broader geopolitical issues of repression and, you know, religious autonomy and respect and independence, the preservation of the Tibetan culture and nation, again, sort of these onslaughts from China. And they – you know, their rabid obsession and hatred for this peaceful man is inexplicable.

LAMB: Well, but go – you know, Hollywood stars often pick off a country and they begin to go around the world representing them. I don’t care whether it’s the Sudan or whether it’s Tibet and Richard Gere or, you know, Clooney or whatever it is. But the cynics sit out there and say, why are we thrusting this money on the Dalai Lama? He doesn’t – you know, he doesn’t – you know, there’s nothing special other than you feel good when you’re around him. And that – that a lot of time is spent with people just deciding for their own reasons that they want to take on a cause like this. Explain that, I mean, for people who are cynical about this.

SWETT: Well, you know, I’m not a cynical person. And I’m always sad when I come across people like that. I would say that the Dalai Lama in particular represents a kingdom, really, you know, a land that is a powerful, iconic symbol of something very profound. You know, there’s something about the spirit of the world that needs Tibet to remain what Tibet is.

There are just the universal human rights that should extend to all people everywhere. And at some level, you’re right. I mean, why does attention focus here, instead of there? Because sadly in the world, there are enough tragedies to go around. And we don’t seem capable – and we aren’t capable of giving equal attention to all. And so there are going to be reasons why some draw our attention.

LAMB: You gave your first Lantos Award to the Dalai Lama?

SWETT: We did. We did.

LAMB: And what did he get?

SWETT: Well, it’s really just the honor of it. As I say, we’re a small organization, so at the present time, there’s not a large prize money attached to our awards. We would love someday to be able to do that, to advance the cause of human rights that that individual is working on.

LAMB: Who else has gotten it, by the way?

SWETT: Well, our second recipient was Professor Elie Wiesel, the famed writer and holocaust survivor. And our recipient last year was Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of ”Hotel Rwanda,” the man who was responsible for sheltering 1,100 Tutsis and Hutus during the Rwandan genocide.

LAMB: Some people didn’t like that selection.

SWETT: Some people didn’t like that selection, and the people who didn’t like that selection were basically the – I am not going to use the word I was going to use – but the advocates on behalf of President Paul Kagame, who is the current president of Rwanda.

LAMB: Because he’s a friend of Kagame’s?

SWETT: Well, Paul Rusesabagina is not a friend of Kagame’s.

LAMB: He is not?

SWETT: No, no, no. Kagame was in some ways the savior of Rwanda, because he, you know, was the one who ultimately brought to an end the genocide by the Hutus. And he deserves credit for many, many important things he’s done for his country.

But he’s also a highly authoritarian leader who has engaged in some pretty significant and questionable actions himself. Paul Rusesabagina is just, you know, a man. He was a hotel manager who found himself in the midst of Hell and did the human and decent thing to do, which was to give refuge to people in the hotel. But he is – you know, Kagame views him as something of an adversary.

LAMB: And Don Cheadle played him in the movie, in case people didn’t remember...

SWETT: He did. He did. He did. It’s a wonderful movie.

LAMB: ... the ”Hotel Rwanda.” Let me ask you this, as I was reading all – why hasn’t your father gotten the Raoul Wallenberg Award?

SWETT: You know, I – that thought never actually crossed my mind. I mean, my father was obviously, you know, a man who did as much as any human being, with the exception of my mother, to...

LAMB: Well, why hasn’t your mother gotten it? You know, I mean, she spent a long time working on this whole thing.

SWETT: She did. She did. I don’t know the answer to that. I will say, if I can brag about my mother a little bit, she was awarded the Wallenberg Centennial Prize this year by the Hungarian government. The Hungarian government is doing a year-long Wallenberg year, they call it, and have had a tremendous number of really very important things.

I’ll put in a plug for your viewers, because opening on April 19th here in Washington at the House of Sweden, which is a beautiful building, not far from here, will be an outstanding exhibit on Raoul Wallenberg. And anybody who wants to learn about the life of this remarkable hero in a beautiful, but very manageable exhibit, it’ll be opening there.

But my mother was awarded the Wallenberg Centennial Prize by the government of Hungary.

LAMB: In the little time we have left, I want to show you a little piece of tape, and this is with your niece, Charity.


LAMB: But I want to – I mean, something happened to her after this particular performance...


CHARITY: Thought it was appropriate to sing my grandmother’s favorite song, which is ”You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

When you walk through a storm, keep your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark.


LAMB: That was the memorial to your father?

SWETT: Yes, that was four years ago.

LAMB: Charity had a double lung transplant?

SWETT: Brian, she actually had two double lung transplants. She just three days ago returned to Washington from the Cleveland Clinic after undergoing and surviving her second double lung transplant. Her first one was successful, but then the lungs went into rejection earlier than we had all hoped they would. So to save her life, she needed a second one.

And, you know, bless the, you know, incredible surgeons and staff at the Cleveland Clinic. They saved this beautiful, talented young opera singer’s life, and she – she literally just came back to Washington, where she lives with her husband.

LAMB: How old is she now?

SWETT: Charity is, I believe, 28.

LAMB: And is –did they call your sister Annette, Jr.?

SWETT: Well, we call my mother Meemo, so that’s how we don’t confuse them...

LAMB: So she’s Meemo, Jr.?

SWETT: Well, she’s – she is – she now has a number of grandchildren, and I think her grandma name is Momo . But, you know, we call them actually Little Annette and Big Annette. And they’re both very diminutive and very tiny. But my mother at five-foot-one and, you know, maybe 100 pounds is Big Annette and my sister at five-foot-two and 98 pounds is Little Annette.

LAMB: By the way, before I forget, why did Charity have to have the lung transplant?

SWETT: She was diagnosed in her early 20s or late teens with a condition called idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. And idiopathic, as I understand it, just means that they don’t know why she had pulmonary hypertension, which can be brought on by lots of things, I mean, I think smoking and various other things, but had never smoked a day in her life.

LAMB: Is she still singing?

SWETT: Remarkably, that’s the miracle of it is that she has not lost her voice through these two surgeries. And she – you know, as she regains her strength, hopefully, she will also be able to regain her singing. I think she performed at Lincoln Center in the fall of 2011 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of IBM, with some of the biggest performers in the world, and stole the show.

LAMB: We only have a couple minutes. Quick things. Dick Swett, your husband, is doing what now?

SWETT: He is running a business called Climate Prosperity Enterprise Solutions, which aims to bring sustainable economic development to the developing world and is working in a number of places in the world and right now is involved in some big projects in Turkey.

LAMB: What’s left for you, as if you haven’t already been involved in a lot of things?

SWETT: Well, you know, I feel incredibly blessed in my life. I’ve had a remarkable life. I have a family that’s the center of my life. I had parents that were inspirational and amazing parents at the same time, which is an unusual combination.

And I am now incredibly passionate and excited about the work at the Lantos Foundation. We’re involved in Internet freedom around the world, specifically in China, civil rights and rule of law in Russia. We’re involved in anti-Semitism and holocaust denial initiatives. We’ve established in conjunction with a partner MEMRI, the Lantos Archives on Antisemitism Holocaust Denial. We’re involved in anti-trafficking initiatives.

So it’s a pretty privileged life to be able to try and do something when you see great wrongs in the world. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying, really.

LAMB: Katrina Lantos Swett, thank you. And they can find you – meaning whoever they are – in Bow, New Hampshire.

SWETT: In Bow, New Hampshire. The easiest way to get a hold of me is through the Lantos Foundation. You can just Google us, lantosfoundation.org, and I’m – you know, I’m always available through that source and, of course, you know, would love anyone who’s interested in the work that we’re doing now on behalf of human rights globally, we would welcome their outreach.

LAMB: Thank you very much for joining us.

SWETT: It’s been an honor. Thank you.


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