CHICAGO - Last fall, Illinois Review editor's leukemia-fighting granddaughter and her family were treated to a week at Kissimmee Florida's world-renowned "Give Kids The World" resort where every day special needs' kids and their families are pampered and even allowed to have ice cream for breakfast. (Don't tell Michelle Obama!)
This Friday in Chicago, "Give Kids The World" will be hosting an Ice Cream for Breakfast Social benefiting the resort, founded by a Holocaust victim. Henri Landwirth grew up in Nazi concentration camps, but as an adult, determined to leave bitterness behind by making lives of suffering children and their families better.
Join families that have visited GKTW at the Hyatt Chicago, Friday, July 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The Ice Cream Social is open-house style, so feel free to stop by anytime at the Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile, 633 North Saint Clair Street, Chicago, IL 60611.
Last fall, after the visit, Illinois Review's editor wrote about Give Kids the World in the Southtown Star:
Give Kids the World is a resort complex in Kissimmee, Fla., where special children and their families visit through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Celebrating 25 years of hosting families from throughout America and the world, Give Kids the World is heaven on earth for everyone who visits.
While at Give Kids the World, families are fed, housed and entertained by a staff that includes 3,500 volunteers from churches, schools and corporations. Last week, when our family visited, students from the Madison Academy in Huntsville, Ala., as well as employees of Lockheed Aircraft and Campbell’s Soup served meals and desserts.
The week’s activities included volunteer visits from nearby Disney World characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and Mary Poppins. The Give Kids the World facilities were created and are maintained by generous charitable contributions.
But the concept of giving seriously ill children a special dream week and, for a short time, allowing their stressed families relief from the everyday worries and concerns of caring for sick children is the work of Henri Landwirth.
Landwirth, 84, has a tattoo on the inside of his left forearm “B4343” that reminds him of where he spent ages 13 through 18. Separated from his parents and twin sister, Landwirth spent those years in Nazi prison camps, experiencing horrors perpetrated against humanity, according to his memoirs entitled “The Gift of Life.”
After years of torture and anguish, Landwirth miraculously survived and eventually found his twin sister, who to this day will not discuss her experiences as a teenager under Nazi domination.
“The Holocaust took everything I had believed in and turned it upside down in an instant,” he writes. “In a world gone mad, there was no longer a reasonable set of expectations upon which a child could base any kind of belief that the world offered hope or promise. The anchors of family and the belief in social institutions disappeared.”
Landwirth admits that it took a long time to restore his faith in humanity and to cultivate a desire to contribute to society.
“My experiences in the camps left me blinded by my hatred, by a need to take some action, any action, against those who had caused so much pain to so many innocent human beings,” he wrote.
The battles continue
So imagine reading this heart-wrenching story while in the background hearing on the evening news that Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a speech at the United Nations in New York City, had proclaimed that the Holocaust never happened and that the 9/11 attack on America was exaggerated.
Here in America, a madman preparing a nuclear weapon to use against those he perceives as his enemy, told the world’s leaders that the brutal senseless killing of roughly 6 million Jewish men, women and children was a figment of historians’ imaginations. We must never allow children to endure what Henri Landwirth endured only 70 years ago. We must stay informed and be ready to act when genocide threatens again.
Landwirth’s tender heart and sensitive soul are the reasons why more than 111,000 families from 70 countries have enjoyed the Give Kids the World fantasy village over the past 25 years.
It is our family’s hope that yours doesn’t experience the need for a week at this wonderful resort. But our 3-year-old granddaughter, her loving parents and sister and me, her grandmother, will never forget how God turned one man’s tragedy around for good.