Honoring Israels Peres as champion of peace, human rights

Many years ago, my husband, the late Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), and I took our two young daughters on a trip to Prague. While visiting the Jewish Quarter, we learned of a “Museum of an Extinct Race” that the Nazis had intended to establish as part of their plan to exterminate the Jewish people.

I remember feeling the cold sense of dread and horror that one experiences in the face of pure evil. I clutched the hands of my two little girls a bit tighter that day, not out of fear, but rather out of determination: a determination not only to survive, but to answer this evil with good.

In this spirit, Tom and I dedicated much of our lives to the work of advancing the cause of human rights globally. It began with our shared battle to seek justice and recognition for one of the greatest heroes of the Holocaust, Raoul Wallenberg. It continued with Tom’s founding of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and its remarkable work on behalf of persecuted communities and individuals, ranging from the people of Tibet and Darfur, to the Roma of Europe, victims of human trafficking and many others. I believe our human rights work has been a meaningful response to the dark vision that Hitler sought to impose on the world.

Of course, one of the most extraordinary ways that the evil of the Nazis’ Final Solution was answered has been through the establishment of modern-day Israel. This summer, the Lantos Foundation, which I chair, honored retiring Israeli President Shimon Peres with our highest award, the Lantos Prize.

Lantos family presents Shimon Peres with the 2014 Lantos Human Rights Prize.

In light of the current crisis facing Israel and the region, I am particularly grateful that we were able to recognize Peres. During his nearly seven decades of service as one of Israel’s founding fathers, Peres has been heroic in his defense, not only of Israel’s right to exist, but also of its highest aspirations and deepest values. Such fidelity to one’s principles is not easy when faced with a hostile world and unscrupulous foes, but he has remained undaunted and full of optimism.

As he recently reminded us, “Even if peace seems distant, we must pursue it and bring it closer. And if we pursue peace with determination, with faith, we will reach it.” This hopeful vision is needed now more than ever.

Thinking back to that somber visit to the Jewish museum in Prague, I know that Tom’s and my proudest rebuke to those who sought to wipe us off the face of the Earth has been our own family. Our two daughters shared our vision of answering evil with good and they were determined to rebuild the family that had been taken from us and to rekindle a light for millions of murdered children. Our 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren are our most personal and profound answer to those who sought our destruction. Each day, they inspire me to reaffirm, like Abraham of old, that we choose good over evil, light over darkness, and we choose life.

Annette Lantos, chairwoman of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, awarded Israeli President Shimon Peres the 2014 Lantos Human Rights Prize during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 26.