Tom Lantos Dies at 80
Congressman Tom Lantos died this morning at the age of 80.
Rep. Tom Lantos, who as a teenager twice escaped from a Nazi-run forced labor camp in Hungary and became the only Holocaust survivor to win a seat in Congress, has died. He was 80.
Spokeswoman Lynne Weil said Lantos, a Californian, died early Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Maryland. He was surrounded by his wife, Annette, two daughters, and many of his 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Annette Lantos said in a statement that her husband’s life was “defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family.”
Lantos, a Democrat who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disclosed last month that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He said at the time that he would serve out his 14th term but would not seek re-election in his Northern California district, which takes in the southwest portion of San Francisco and suburbs to the south including Lantos’ home of San Mateo.
White House press secretary Dana Perino announced the news of Lantos’ death to reporters at a morning briefing.
The timing of Lantos’ diagnosis was a particular blow because he had assumed his committee chairmanship just a year earlier, when Democrats retook control of Congress. He said then that in a sense his whole life had been a preparation for the job — and it was.
Lantos, who referred to himself as “an American by choice,” was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, and was 16 when Adolf Hitler occupied Hungary in 1944. He survived by escaping from the labor camp and coming under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who used his official status and visa-issuing powers to save thousands of Hungarian Jews. Lantos’ mother and much of his family perished in the Holocaust.
“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,” Lantos said upon announcing his retirement last month. “I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”
A remarkable story.