Ladis K. D. Kristof

1918 - 2009

Ladis K. D. Kristof, born 1918 in Romania of Polish and Armenian parents, died recently at the age of 91. A political geographer, he taught at Portland State University as recently as 2007. Owner of a 73-acre farm, he survived a tractor rollover at the age of 86 and still chopped wood and hunted deer and elk at the age of 90. Kristof was born to the aristocracy and grew up wealthy on a sprawling estate in Romania. He learned seven languages and attended university in Poland. During World War II, Kristof was captured for spying and imprisoned by the Nazis. He escaped jail and eluded capture for the rest of the war, but at the war’s end his family’s estate was confiscated by the Red Army, eventually becoming absorbed into the Soviet Union and later the Ukraine. Having lost everything and considered suspect by the Communists, Kristof escaped by horseback and then by swimming across the Danube River on a dark night in 1948, in hopes of reaching the West. He was detained on the Yugoslav side of the river however, and sent to a concentration camp and later to an asbestos mine and logging camp. Marked for execution, Kristof once again escaped his captors, reaching Italy and eventually France. He worked as a laborer in Paris until 1952, when he was finally able to emigrate to the United States. Arriving in New York, Kristof began his new life by purchasing a copy of the New York Times, the newspaper for which his son, Nicholas D. Kristof, would later become a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. Upon his father’s death, his son wrote a column in which he quoted his father’s entry in Who’s Who in America: War, want and concentration camps, exile from home and homeland, these have made me hate strife among men, but they have not made me lose faith in the future of mankind… I remain a rationalist and an optimist at a time when the prophets of doom have the floor…If man has been able to create the arts, the sciences, and the material civilization we know in America, why should he be judged powerless to create justice, fraternity and peace? To earn money while learning English (his eighth language), Kristof found a job at a logging camp in Oregon. He enrolled at Reed College, graduating in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He became a U.S. citizen in 1958 and earned his political science PhD at the University of Chicago in 1969. He taught and conducted research at Temple University, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the University of Santa Clara, and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Kristof specialized in political geography and geopolitics, and published many articles on topics such as frontiers, boundaries, and the history of geopolitics. He also published substantially in the field of political science. Kristof wrote and edited books, monographs and articles, including Revolution and Politics in RussiaThe Nature of Frontiers and Boundaries, and The Origins and Evolution of Geopolitics. He frequently attended meetings of the International Geographical Congresses where he was an active participant, and held visiting professorships in the U.S. and abroad. Kristof was a fifty-year member of the Association of American Geographers.

Ladis K.D. Kristof (Necrology). 2010. AAG Newsletter 45(9): 22.