THE ANTIDOTE TO HATE; 2 to Speak of Human Rights at High School in Callahan Racial Incidents Prompt a West Nassau Teacher to Seek a Program

By Brandenburg, Susan D. | The Florida Times Union, April 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

THE ANTIDOTE TO HATE; 2 to Speak of Human Rights at High School in Callahan Racial Incidents Prompt a West Nassau Teacher to Seek a Program


Brandenburg, Susan D., The Florida Times Union


Byline: SUSAN D. BRANDENBURG

CALLAHAN -- At age 13, Henri Landwirth was torn from his family and placed in a series of Nazi concentration camps for the next five years.

"I faced death every day. I lost both of my parents to the Holocaust, and I even lost the privilege of going to high school," said Landwirth, now an internationally known philanthropist who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Landwirth, a hotel executive, started a number of nonprofit organizations, including Give Kids the World, a nonprofit resort for terminally ill children and their families, and Dignity U Wear, which supplies clothing to homeless people and abuse victims.

"In World War II, Germany made it illegal for Jews to get an education. In place of education, they focused on extermination of the Jewish race," Landwirth said. "The Nazis murdered over 6 million Jews. I know, from firsthand experience, the importance of family, education and, above all, compassion for our fellow human beings."

The Ku Klux Klan once posted a $1,000 per pound bounty on the small, white, 135-pound body of civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy.

"My former classmates from Robert E. Lee High School were fighting and dying to rid the world of Nazis during World War II," Kennedy, 89, said. "Due to a back injury, I couldn't enlist, so I did what I could. I fought the American Nazis -- the Ku Klux Klan."

Risking his life to infiltrate and inform on the Klan during the 1940s, Kennedy became an influential human-rights activist. Author of five books, including The Klan Unmasked, Kennedy has spent his life as an investigative journalist, author, folklorist and activist.

On Monday, Landwirth and Kennedy will team up to make a historic appearance at West Nassau High School in Callahan.

"These are two of the most powerful champions for human rights and diversity living today," said Bettina Hodges, an art teacher at West Nassau High. "I still can't believe my call to Henri Landwirth resulted in this great day for our school."

Hodges initiated the visit at the recommendation of her husband, Yulee Elementary School Principal Scott Hodges, formerly assistant principal at Fernandina Beach High School.

"I had seen some racially motivated incidents at school and wanted to find someone special to come in and talk to students about how wrong it is to hate someone just because they're different," Hodges said. "My husband Scott instantly remembered Henri Landwirth's presentation to the students in Fernandina. He said he was one of the most powerful speakers he's ever heard. Mr. Landwirth not only responded to my phone call, but he recruited Stetson Kennedy to come with him."

West Nassau High School Principal Ron Booker said the visit could mark a turning point for the school.

"I've always been a believer that if we stand by and let human rights be violated, we are losing our own rights," Booker said. "At some point, the silent majority needs to speak up. This is one of those times at West Nassau High. …

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