Tom Lantos Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom Posthumously
June 22nd, 2008
On June 19, 2008, President Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously) to Tom Lantos, the highest ranking public official of Hungarian descent and a tireless advocate for human rights worldwide. The award was received by Annette Lantos, his “partner in life and in Congress.”
Representing the Hungarian American community were the Lantos family, Nancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol and former Ambassador to Hungary and Max Teleki, President of the Hungarian American Coalition.
President Bush made the following remarks:
“When Tom Lantos was 16 years old, Nazi troops occupied his hometown of Budapest. During that bitter occupation, young Tom was active in the resistance. He twice was sent to a Nazi labor camp; both times he escaped. Tom and his wife Annette survived the Holocaust. Others in their family did not.
Their experiences amid Nazi terror shaped the rest of their lives. After they left Hungary and made California their home, Tom put his name on the ballot for a seat in the House of Representatives -- and became the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to Congress. One of his early acts was to establish the Congressional Human Rights Council [sic]. Annette served as the Caucus's director. Tom earned the respect from both sides of the aisle, and he rose to become the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. One colleague put it this way: Tom was at the forefront of virtually every human rights battle over nearly three decades in the Congress.
On Capitol Hill, Tom displayed the energy and enthusiasm of people half his age. When he was in his seventies, he said that he was at the midpoint of his Congressional career. (Laughter.) When he was diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer, he responded with typical grace. As he announced his decision to retire from the job he loved, his words were not of despair, but of gratitude for a nation that had given him so much. Only in America, he said, could a penniless survivor of the Holocaust receive an education, raise a family, and have the privilege of serving in the Congress. That dying servant of the people then said this: "I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country."
America is equally grateful to Tom Lantos. We miss his powerful voice and his strong Hungarian accent. (Laughter.) We miss his generosity of spirit. And we miss his vigorous defense of human rights and his powerful witness for the cause of human freedom. For a lifetime of leadership, for his commitment to liberty, and for his devoted service to his adopted nation, I am proud to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, to Tom Lantos, and proud that his loving wife Annette will receive the award on behalf of his family.”
The 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom Citation is the following:
“Tom Lantos was a champion of human rights and a man of character and conviction. An American by choice and the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the Congress, he worked to empower oppressed people around the world in their struggle to secure liberty. He served as a powerful witness for the importance of freedom and reminded us that we must never turn a blind eye to inhumanity. The United States honors Tom Lantos for his committed leadership and his lifetime of service to our Nation and the world.”
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