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U.S. Congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos recently died at the age of eighty. Mr. Lantos, a Democrat from California, served as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
During his some twenty-seven years in Congress, Mr. Lantos was a staunch defender of human rights in such places as China, Russia, Burma, and Darfur. He insistently argued that nations with bad human rights records had no place on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. And he was nothing if not outspoken. When executives of Yahoo Inc., appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007 to defend their role in the jailing of a journalist by the Chinese government, Mr. Lantos told them, "While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are Pygmies."
As founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983, Mr. Lantos was intent on using government pressure wherever possible, as he put it, to "prevent another Holocaust," referring to the murder of six-million European Jews by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Mr. Lantos often referred to himself as "an American by choice." He was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, and was sixteen when a German Nazi army occupied Hungary in 1944. Jews in Hungary, like those elsewhere in Europe, were rounded up and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis. Mr. Lantos survived by escaping from a labor camp. He eventually took refuge in a safe house maintained by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Second World War. After the war, Mr. Lantos learned that most of his family had died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
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Tom Lantos came to the U.S. in 1947 to study economics and earned a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. In a statement shortly before his death, Mr. Lantos said, "It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress."
President George W. Bush expressed his condolences to the family of Mr. Lantos. "As the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress," said Mr. Bush, "Tom [Lantos] was a living reminder that we must never turn a bind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men."