Congressman Tom Lantos died yesterday morning at the age of 80. A Hungarian survivor of the Nazi death camps who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, there was perhaps no other member of Congress who better understood the promise and potential of America. Lantos lost most of his family during the Holocaust, and unlike the vast majority of his colleagues, he experienced genocidal totalitarianism–and the consequences of appeasing it–first hand.
As such, Lantos was the most vociferous advocate on behalf of international human rights in the House of Representatives, spending much time and effort drawing the body’s attention to crises around the world from Burma to Darfur. While Lantos was a fervent critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the post-invasion reconstruction of Iraq, he never apologized for his decision to vote in favor of the United States overthrowing a murderous dictator. He was also a strong supporter of Israel during his near three-decade tenure in Congress.
This report in the San Francisco Chronicle covers some of Lantos’s many achievements in the House.
Upon announcing his retirement from Congress last year, Lantos issued a statement which read, in part:
It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust … 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.
Few people in public life better embodied, or conveyed, the American immigrant experience than Tom Lantos. This country–and the world–is a lesser place without him.