Tom Lantos (1928 – February 11, 2008) was a Democratic congressman (1980-2008) from California's 12th Congressional District based in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco. He was the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress. He was best known as an outspoken advocate for human rights and an fierce opponent of the Nazis, Communists and Islamofascists.
Lantos was born to a middle class Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. He was 16 when Nazi Germany occupied Hungary. He joined the anti-Nazi resistance, and later the anti-Communist student movement. After the Soviets invaded Hungary, he learned that most of his family had died in the Holocaust. He came to the United States on an academic scholarship in 1947. He earned degrees in economics at the University of Washington and then a PhD in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He taught economics at San Francisco State University from 1950 to 1980
Lantos was a strong liberal on domestic issues, with a 91% rating from the American Civil Liberties Union for 2005–2006; a 100% rating from the AFL-CIO for 2006; a 0% rating from the Family Research Council for 2006; a 100% rating from NARAL/Pro-Choice America for 2006; and an F from the National Rifle Association for 2006.
In foreign policy he was a leader in Congress and an especially strong opponent of Communism. He founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983. He used the Caucus to publicize the plight of individual Soviet Jews, Pentecostals and dissidents targeted by the Soviet regime. Many were released. Through the Caucus, Lantos brought major concerns before the public, including killings in Darfur and the Congo. He demanded that internet companies like Yahoo! and Google be accountable for their complicity in censorship and political persecution in China. Lantos publicized abuses against Tibetans, the Kurds, the Burmese, and the Uighurs. He was a strong enemy of anti-Semitism and persecution of religious minorities, and also of abuses against gays and lesbians.
"Communism was not the only monstrous phenomenon determined to destroy free and open societies," said Lantos in 2007. Lantos, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had fought against Nazism and communism, and "it is now my privilege to fight against Islamic terrorism determined to take us back 13 centuries."
Lantos often grabbed headlines for his outspoken comments. He blasted former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former French President Jacques Chirac for their failure to fight "Islamofascism" and their ingratitude to America for World War II. "I am so glad that the era of Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder in Germany is now gone," he said. He ridiculed Schroeder as a "political prostitute, now that he's taking big checks from Putin" (Schroeder took a consulting job with a Russian oil firm shortly after leaving office), and then quipped that "the sex workers in my district objected so I will no longer use that phrase."
In 2003 Lantos staunchly supported President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, but he later became an outspoken critic of Bush's handling of the war. He bluntly told Dutch leaders that some Europeans were more outraged by the Guantánamo detention center than by the Nazi's death camps.
As chairman of the House committee in 2007 he demanded that Japan apologize for wartime sex slavery by its military. He declared Turkey’s mass killing of Armenians in World War I an act of genocide, a move that angered the Bush administration and nearly provoked a confrontation with the Turkish government.
He was frequently critical of China, citing its bad human rights record.
Lantos, a prominent advocate for Israel, attributed his support not to his Jewish heritage, but to his belief in democracy and opposition to Islamic terrorism.
President Bush commemorated Lantos. "Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men."
- "Lantos on Communism and Putin, June 18th, 2007"
- Ivan Osorio, "Hungarian Original," American Spectator (Feb. 2008) online