Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust Survivor ever to serve in Congress, passed away on Monday at the age of 80 from complications of cancer.
A champion of civil liberties, Lantos founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and supported human rights struggles against both right-wing and left-wing regimes in China, Russia, Myanmar, Darfur and wherever official pressure could, as he put it, “prevent another Holocaust.” He also was passionate about animal rights, working to stop seal hunts, dog killings in foreign countries, and horse slaughter, bear baiting and the operation of puppy mills at home.
He also used his post as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to highlight human rights violators. He argued that nations with bad records had no place on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, that Beijing should not be awarded the 2008 Olympics because of its human rights record, and that corporations had an obligation to protect individuals and press freedoms. When executives of Yahoo Inc. appeared before the committee last year to defend their role in the jailing of a journalist by Chinese officials, Lantos said, “While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are Pygmies.”
The first legislation Lantos sponsored upon being elected in 1980 was to give honorary American citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg, the diplomat who saved thousands of Jews, including the Congressman and his aunt.