A statue honoring former U.S. lawmaker and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos was unveiled in Budapest, Hungary on Thursday.
The Hungarian-born Lantos, who served a Democrat from California in the House of Representatives from 1981 until his death in 2008, was the only Holocaust survivor to ever sit in Congress. He was widely known for his advocacy of democracy, fighting anti-Semitism and standing up for human rights around the world, establishing the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983.
“During his whole life, his heart was in Hungary,” said his widow Annette at the ceremony on Thursday, which would have been Lantos’ 90th birthday, the Associated Press reported.
During the Holocaust, Lantos, who was a teenager at the time, was sent to a forced labor camp near Budapest. He eventually escaped the camp, got caught and was severely beaten, but managed to escape again. Eventually Lantos survived the final years of the war at a Budapest safe house established by Swedish diplomat Raul Wallenberg, where he also served in Wallenberg’s anti-Nazi underground network.
“Tom Lantos called on all of us—not just those in government service, but all citizens, all human beings—to show courage in the face of fear, to smooth difficulties and correct mistakes,” said David Kostelancik, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.
The statue honoring Lantos comes amid a deep discussion and controversy in Hungary over the past year concerning the country’s role in the Holocaust. Last June, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was widely condemned by Jewish groups for praising World War II-era Hungarian leader and Nazi ally Miklos Horthy. More recently, Hungarian Jewish groups condemned a senior Hungarian politician, Sandor Lezsak, for a planned speech honoring Miklos Horthy on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.