$1 million gift made to Holocaust Center here

As a young Jewish doctor in Nazi-occupied Budapest, Laszlo Tauber cared for thousands of Jews in a crowded, makeshift hospital. Now 84, he continues to do his part to heal others and the world.

The Holocaust survivor, who narrowly escaped deportation to a concentration camp and lost nearly all his family to the Nazis, has donated $25 million to Shoah-related causes. Of the funds, $1 million will go to the Holocaust Center of Northern California.

The gifts, announced last week, come in the form of a charitable remainder trust, which will be distributed upon Tauber's death. The Hungarian-born survivor lives in Potomac, Md., where he is a practicing general surgeon and a successful real estate investor with holdings in the vicinity of $500 million.

"Ninety percent of my family was killed either in concentration or forced labor camps," Tauber said this week by phone from his office. "The Holocaust never left me. I was liberated physically, but not from my memories."

Tauber, who immigrated to this country in 1948, donated the $25 million in memory of his parents, uncle and brother and in honor of his wife and three children. His daughter Ingrid Tauber serves as co-president of the Holocaust Center of Northern California, based in San Francisco.

"My father has clearly made a statement about the importance of the preservation of Holocaust history and memory," she said.

A San Francisco clinical psychologist, Ingrid Tauber has been co-president of the Holocaust Center for the past three years. A group of survivors founded the center 20 years ago to protest the opening of a Nazi bookstore in the city.

Located on 14th Avenue, the center has continued to expand over the years. A resource for schools, media, authors and artists around the country, it houses an extensive library and archives, and sponsors a survivors' speaker's bureau, lectures, films, curriculum consulting and teacher training.

The $1 million gift "is going to ensure the perpetuity of the Holocaust Center," said Ali Cannon, the organization's program director. "It allows us to imagine and dream for the agency's future."

Those dreams, she said, include expanding the center's programs, purchasing a building and incorporating an exhibit space. "We'll be able to meet the growing demand for our services and create new possibilities as well," Cannon said.

In addition to the Holocaust Center allocation, Tauber's gifts include:

*$15 million for the establishment of scholarships at institutions of higher learning in the United States. These scholarships will be awarded to descendants of men and women who served in the United States armed forces during World War II.

*$5 million for the establishment of Wallenberg Scholarships for students who are citizens of Sweden and Denmark. The scholarships are named for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued Hungarian Jews during the war. Wallenberg scholars will be expected to take a Holocaust-related course at their institution of study.

*$2 million to the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry at Brandeis University. Tauber donated $1.6 million to establish the institute in 1980.

*$1 million to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Tauber previously pledged another $1 million to the institution.

*$1 million to increase the existing endowment of the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Chair at George Washington University. The chair is occupied by Dr. Walter Reich, the former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Tauber has been generous in quieter ways, as well. Upon learning that a Christian Hungarian general who had saved Jewish children from the Nazis was living in Budapest in poverty, Tauber supported him for the last decade of his life.

In another example of his altruism, bills to patients are often low or nonexistent.

Despite his success, Tauber has never forgotten what he saw during the war.

At age 29, he was chief of surgery at the International Red Cross Hospital in Budapest. The facility served as a makeshift hospital for Jews after the Nazi occupation of Hungary.

The hospital had only one operating room.

Caring for patients around the clock, Tauber often went without food or sleep, operating without running water or electricity. Authorities were aware of the hospital, and those who worked there never knew when it would be shut down.

While he worked to save lives, Tauber had his own close calls. Once, he violated a curfew to visit a patient at home. When the Gestapo began searching the building, Tauber was spared by a Swiss governess who shoved him into her bed and pretended he was her lover.

Another time, Tauber was seized by the Gestapo and taken to a site from which people were being deported. The situation there was chaotic. Tauber simply turned and walked away without being noticed.

On the occasion of his 80th birthday, Tauber received the Red Cross's highest medal of honor, the Medal of Merit. His children had to prod him to accept the honor.

"I don't think he views himself at all as a hero," his daughter said. "I think he was doing what he thought was the right and moral thing to do."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.