Survivor of Nazi Concentration Camps a Living History Lesson

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Trinidad, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

Barely 13 years old, Henri Landwirth faced death every day as a prisoner in Auschwitz, Mauthausen and other German World War II concentration camps.

Landwirth survived five years of torture, hunger and loneliness, and successfully started a new life in the United States, earning financial stability and devoting himself to helping others.

Some might say he's the American dream personified.

Now 76, the man shared some of his experiences with about 125 sixth-grade students in Callahan in late April. Those students recently finished studying about the Holocaust, social studies teacher Val Johnson said.

The 12- and 13-year-olds poured into the school gymnasium, pushing against each other and sliding into their seats. Confusion bounced off the walls until Landwirth took the microphone.

As Landwirth began his story of loss and second chances, he showed them the numbers tattooed on his forearm -- B4343 -- and let them touch the back of his head, where a Nazi soldier's rifle left a hole in his skull.

He told them how he was separated from his parents, never to see them again.

"Be good to your family, especially your parents," Landwirth said. "Tell them how much you love them."

Landwirth was forced from camp to camp, watching people die all around him. Only one of every 10 people lived to see freedom again, he said.

"Very few of us made it out," Landwirth said. "When I got out of the camps, I can't tell you how much I hated the Germans. I don't do that anymore -- I couldn't live a normal life, otherwise."

After the war, Landwirth came to the United States with $20 in his pocket. Unable to speak English, he soon was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Korea. Landwirth spent two years in the Army, and attended school afterward through the G.I. Bill. …