tom_and_annette.jpgTom Lantos (that’s him with his wife Annette on the right) will finish out this Congressional term but then will not run for re-election. The reason is that he has cancer of the esophagus.

AP reports:

Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress, announced on Wednesday that he will not seek re-election this year because he has cancer of the esophagus.

Lantos, 79, a California Democrat and chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, is known for his dedication to human rights issues. He is serving his 14th term, after joining the House of Representatives in 1981.

“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, who was born in Budapest, Hungary, said in a statement. “I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Retirement was a painful choice for Lantos, who had become chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee last January after years of serving as ranking member under the Republican majority. He told The Chronicle in an interview last year, “In a sense, my whole life has been a preparation for this job.”

Born in Budapest in 1928 to middle-class Jewish parents, Lantos was just 16 when the Nazis rolled into the Hungarian capital in 1944. He twice escaped from a labor camp and eventually made it to a safe house run by the Swedish humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg. He credits his blue eyes and blond hair with helping him avoid detection.

Lantos and his wife, Annette, his childhood sweetheart, survived, but they lost almost their entire families in the death camps. Their experiences in the Holocaust would shape his priorities in Congress. In 1983, he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Annette Lantos, who works as volunteer in his Washington office, has directed the caucus ever since.

Lantos’ election to Congress was almost as unlikely as his escape from the Nazis. After settling in San Mateo County, he spent 30 years teaching economics at San Francisco State, served as a foreign affairs analyst on public television and won a seat on the Millbrae school board. When other Democrats passed on the chance to challenge GOP incumbent Rep. Bill Royer in 1980, Lantos jumped in and narrowly won.

I would like to wish him a speedy recovery and refuah shlema.

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