January 2, 2008 / 7:32 PM / 10 years ago

Holocaust survivor Rep. Lantos to retire

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rep. Tom Lantos, who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and is the only Holocaust survivor elected to the Congress, on Wednesday said he has been diagnosed with cancer and will not seek re-election in November.

The 79-year-old California Democrat, who was born in Hungary and twice escaped Nazi labor camps, said he will serve the remainder of his 14th term, which ends in January 2009.

In announcing he has been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and would end his House career at the end of his term, Lantos reflected on his life.

“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 said.

Shortly after Lantos came to Congress in 1981, he pushed for legislation granting honorary U.S. citizenship to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. That came nearly four decades after Wallenberg protected Lantos and other occupants of an apartment building from Nazi arrest.

Throughout his congressional career, Lantos was an outspoken critic of international human rights abuses.

Lantos helped win passage in 2002 of a congressional resolution authorizing the U.S. attack on Iraq that unfolded the following year. More recently, Lantos has been critical of the “U.S. involvement in the civil war in Iraq.”

When Democrats gained majority control of the House a year ago, Lantos used his new position as chairman of the foreign affairs panel to conduct oversight of the Iraq war, including a high-profile hearing last September on progress from the U.S. troop increase.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Californian, called Lantos “one of America’s leading experts on foreign affairs and most effective advocates for human rights both at home and abroad.” She added, “As the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, he has used his position to fight for those whose voices have been silenced by hatred and oppression.”

Editing by Vicki Allen

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