Tom Lantos (1928-2008) was a U.S. Representative (D-California) from 1980 to his death, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, the founder of human rights organizations in the House, and a strong supporter of the State of Israel. In the House, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is named in his honor.
Born in Hungary, where, as a teenager, he was sent to forced labor camps and endured many instances of torture, abuse and forced labor. He escaped the labor camps and sought refuge with an aunt who lived in a Wallenberg safe house. In 1947, Mr. Lantos came to the United States to study on a Hill Foundation Scholarship, and in 1980, he became a Member of the House of Representatives from California. Congressman Lantos led an enormous effort to raise awareness about the need for the respect for human rights around the world, and was a leading voice for human rights in the Congress. Among many human rights accomplishments, Mr. Lantos was the first government representative to issue a formal invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to come to the United States Congress in 1987, and attend a meeting of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which became the Lantos Commission. Mr. and Mrs. Lantos have dedicated to the promotion of the heroic life of Swedish Diplomat Raul Wallenberg, who saved countless lives during the Holocaust in Hungary by issuing "protective passports," declaring the bearer to be a citizen of neutral Sweden.
House of Representatives
He was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. While from a liberal district, he supported Republican initiatives to assert democracy abroad and use the military to intervene when a moral imperative or national interest is at stake, voting for the 2002 Iraq War authorization. "Had the United States and its allies confronted Hitler earlier, had we acted sooner to stymie his evil designs, the 51 million lives needlessly lost during that war could have been saved...Just as leaders and diplomats who appeased Hitler at Munich in 1938 stand humiliated before history, so will we if we appease Saddam Hussein today."
Nevertheless, he became critical of the direction of the war by 2006, and advocated large withdrawals. He was "passionately committed to having a dialogue with people we disagree with," and was among the first Congressman to visit Libya in 2004.
Human rights activism
Steve Clemons wrote that Lantos had changed approaches in recent years, "to being a strong advocate of a credible US-led Palestinian-Israeli peace process." He opposed the "building passion" for a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program and "sternly called for the Bush administration and the legislative branch to get serious about diplomatic approaches with traction." Clemons mentioned a Chuck Hagel speech "that America could not afford to choose Israel's interests at the expense of Arab interests, or the other way around. We needed to develop an interest-based foreign policy, according to Hagel, that built in both of these parties and that helped them go further than their current circumstances would allow them to do on their own. Lantos grabbed my arm and said: Chuck Hagel is on exactly the right course."
- Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, U.S. House of Representatives
- Adam Bernstein (12 February 2008), "California Congressman and Holocaust Survivor Tom Lantos, 80", Washington Post
- Steve Clemons (11 February 2008), "Remembering Tom Lantos", The Guardian