- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rep. Tom Lantos of California, a longtime advocate of human rights and civil rights causes and the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, has died. He was 80.

Mr. Lantos died early yesterday at Bethesda Naval Medical Center from complications from cancer. He was surrounded by his wife of 57 years, Annette, two daughters, and many of his 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Mr. Lantos, a Democrat who represented his San Francisco-area district for 27 years, announced last month that he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and would not seek re-election in November.

He said at the time: “It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a 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. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also represents a San Francisco-area district and was a longtime friend of Mr. Lantos’, said his death was a “loss for the Congress and for the nation and a terrible loss for me personally.

“Tom Lantos devoted his life to shining a bright light on dark corners of oppression,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Having lived through the worst evil known to mankind, Tom Lantos translated the experience into a lifetime commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism, Holocaust education and a commitment to the state of Israel.”

Rep. Adam H. Putnam, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Mr. Lantos “brought to this institution a unique sense of purpose forged by a difficult and very personal struggle on behalf of freedom and human dignity.”

President Bush called him “a man of character and a champion of human rights” and “a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men.”

Mr. Lantos became chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee when Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007. Last fall, he moved through his committee a measure that would have recognized the World War I-era killings of Armenians as a genocide, legislation strongly opposed by Turkey. The bill, which was not supported by many Republicans and the Bush administration, did not pass the House.

He was a leading advocate among Democrats for the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq war, although later he became a strong critic of the Bush administration’s war strategy.

In 2004, he led the first congressional delegation to Libya in more than 30 years, meeting personally with Moammar Gadhafi and urging the Bush administration to show “good faith” to the North African leader in his pledge to abandon his nuclear weapons programs. Later that year, Mr. Bush lifted sanctions against Libya.

He was also one of five members of Congress arrested in a protest outside the Sudanese Embassy in 2006 over the genocide in Darfur.

Mr. Lantos was born in Budapest in 1928 and joined the anti-Nazi Hungarian underground movement after Germany invaded his native country when he was 16. He was captured and sent to a forced labor camp, where he was severely beaten after he tried to escape. He later successfully escaped, making it to a safe house in Budapest.

Mr. Lantos came to the United States in 1947 after being awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1950, he married Annette, his childhood sweetheart, with whom he had managed to reunite after the war. The couple moved to the San Francisco Bay area so he could pursue a doctoral degree in economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Lantos and his wife had two daughters, Annette and Katrina, who between them had 18 grandchildren. According to Mr. Lantos, his daughters were following through on a promise to produce a very large family because his and his wife’s families had perished in the Holocaust.

Flags at the White House and Capitol were lowered to half-staff in Mr. Lantos’ honor. Tributes poured in from Jewish groups worldwide, as well as from the governments of Israel and Hungary.

Public memorial and funeral plans were undecided yesterday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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