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California Rep. Tom Lantos, 80, Dies

California Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, has died, his spokeswoman said Monday. He was 80.

Lantos, who since 1980 represented California's 12th District, which includes San Mateo and a portion of southwest San Francisco, passed away at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Maryland, spokeswoman Lynne Weil said.

The congressman served as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He disclosed last month that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus.

His wife, Annette Lantos said in a statement that her husband's life was "defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family."

Lantos, who referred to himself as "an American by choice," was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary. He was 16 when Hitler's armies occupied Hungary in 1944.

His parents both died in the Holocaust, but Lantos himself twice escaped from forced labor camps. Eventually he came under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews.

In 1983, Lantos founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a group that helped shape U.S. human rights policy. He was also a strong supporter of Israel and an early advocate of the U.S. war with Iraq. However, he became increasingly outspoken against the Bush administration's strategy and last year co-sponsored a House resolution criticizing the troop surge.

In 2004, Lantos led the first congressional delegation to Libya in more than 30 years, meeting personally with Moammar Gadhafi. He was instrumental in getting President Bush to lift sanctions against that country.

Last year, as Foreign Affairs chairman, Lantos defied administration opposition, moving a measure through his committee that would have recognized the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide, something U.S. ally Turkey strongly opposed.

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