U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor elected to the U.S. Congress, is retiring because he has cancer.
Lantos, one of the most powerful members of Congress and the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Wednesday he will serve out his term, which ends at the close of this year.
“Routine medical tests have revealed that I have cancer of the esophagus,” he said. “In view of this development and the treatment it will require, I will not seek re-election.”
Lantos most recently led the battle to substantially expand sanctions against Iran, a bill that passed overwhelmingly in the House and is under consideration in the Senate. Considered a go-to lawmaker on many Jewish issues, he also is a strong advocate of reaching out to rogue states, even Israel’s most dire enemies. He played a role in swaying Libya to give up its own weapons of mass destruction program in 2003 and has said he is willing to meet Iran’s leadership.
Lantos, who turns 80 next month, was 16 in 1944 when the Nazis invaded his native Hungary. He fought in the anti-Nazi underground and arrived in the United States in 1947. He was an economist and a consultant prior to his 1980 election to represent a San Francisco area district.
“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. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country,” he said.