As we met for the first time I naturally offered my right hand which he took with his before drawing me in to his chest for the most comfortable hug, the kind you just want to close your eyes and fall into having found a safe haven from whatever else was going on in the world around you. It was almost as if he sensed that you needed a good hug at that moment in time and that alone was the reason he had gotten up that morning to fulfill your wish. Weird, right? Eventually, the embrace ends. You take a step back, and in that one tiny moment you notice his arm has a tattoo. Suddenly things get awkward because you don't know whether to actually look at that tat or quickly turn away to pretend you never saw it. That it couldn't possibly be what you know to be true. In the end, you know what you saw, and it takes every ounce of strength you can muster to pull yourself together and continue on with your very first meeting of Henri Landwirth.
Yes, that Henri. The one that survived the Holocaust, and has B4343 in faded blue ink on the inside of his left forearm as a permanent reminder of those horrific years he spent in barely-survival mode Nazi labor camp hell.
So why were his eyes now twinkling? I couldn't imagine at the time of our first meeting, but as he proudly showed me around his pride and joy, the wonderland of hope and survival for hundreds of thousands of critically ill children now known as Give Kids the World Village, it became obvious that herein lied the reason for that spark. Henri's eyes were shining because they needed to be a beacon of hope for those kids who, many times, had lost their own.
I was there representing an organization that had agreed to assist in furthering Henri's dreams in that Village, and although I played a small part in what became a major fundraising effort culminating in the ultimate building of The Caring Center and admin building on campus, I felt honored to be by his side during that project, and was so moved when I read his book, The Gift of Life, and saw that he personally mentioned my group's project on page 201. To see his own words describe that Caring Center as "one of the emotional touchstones of the Village" could not have made me happier. In all honestly, being around Henri made you want to be a better person.
And to hear his voice on the other end of a phone call was just sweetness. You knew he was smiling and it made you smile, too, even though you knew darn well that phone call was going to result in you doing something - squeezing a little more time out of your day to fulfill "just one small request if you have the time, Terry."
But now, as I write this, my heart is heavy because we've lost Henri. April 16, 2018. Dear, sweet, gentle man that he was finally gets his well deserved heavenly rest, for no matter what you personally believe about the hereafter, surely this man has earned the right to rise above us all.
Working in the hospitality industry I've met several Presidents along with plenty of celebrities and world famous talking heads, but I'd take another sit down with Henri over any of them. Humble. Gentle. Courageous. Courteous. Dignified, and most definitely honest. He walked with grace and was guided by compassion along with his belief in the respect for humanity. How else could you survive what he did and not come out wanting to better the earth however you could?
Most of all, Rest In Sweet Eternal Peace, my forever friend.
NOTE TO READERS: To learn more about this incredible man, I encourage you to read the Gift of Life in which Henri tells his own remarkable life story.