Thomas Peter Lantos (1928-2008) was a Hungarian-born American politician who was the only Holocaust survivor to have served in the United States Congress. He served 14 terms in the United States House of Representatives as Congressman for the California district encompassing parts of San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
Born on February 1, 1928, in Budapest, Lantos was 16 years old when Hungary was invaded by Nazi Germany. Because of his Jewish heritage, Lantos was sent to a labor camp in Szob, Hungary; he escaped from the camp twice, making his way back to Budapest the second time, where he went into hiding in a safe house operated by Raoul Wallenberg. Lantos was active in the anti-Nazi resistance movement until Hungary was liberated by Russian military forces in January 1945. After the war, Lantos was unable to locate members of his immediate family, who were mostly sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, but did reunite with his childhood friend, Annette Tillemann, who he married in June 1950. Lantos remained in Hungary after the war, where he began studying economics at the University of Budapest, until 1947 when he was awarded a Hillel Foundation scholarship and immigrated to the United States to attend the University of Washington. Upon his graduation from University of Washington with a Master of Arts, Lantos moved to California to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate in economics in 1953, and began work as a professor at San Francisco State University, a position he held until he began his political career in 1980. During his time as a professor, Lantos also served as a business consultant, foreign policy commentator for television, and finally a senior advisor to several U.S. Senators.
Lantos was first elected to office in the House of Representatives in 1980. As a result of his background, Lantos was keenly interested in foreign policy and human rights: he served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee during the majority of his time in Congress, where he briefly served as chairman, and in 1983, Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, of which he served as co-chair for the duration of his time in office; the caucus was reformed into "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission" upon his death. Lantos also served in key positions on the House Government Operations Committee, where he chaired the Employment and Housing Subcommittee and led the investigation and hearings for the Department of Housing and Urban Development scandals, the House Select Committee on Aging and the Congressional Delegation to the European Parliament. A staunch animal rights activist and environmentalist, Lantos was also deeply concerned with transportation issues in his home district, as well as the protection of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Lantos was also a member of the United States Holocaust Council and the United States Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
On January 2, 2008, Lantos announced that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and would not run for a 15th term in Congress. Less than six weeks later, on February 11, 2008, Lantos died of complications from his illness. In a special election held later that year, his chosen successor, Jackie Speier, was elected to fill his vacant Congressional seat. Shortly after his death, his surviving wife, Annette, founded the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice in Concord, New Hampshire.
From the guide to the Tom Lantos papers, 1944-2008, bulk 1979-2008, (The Bancroft Library)