ORLANDO, Fla. – Former hotelier Henri Landwirth, who survived the Holocaust and later devoted his life to making wishes come true for critically ill children by founding Give Kids The World Village, died Monday at his Jacksonville, Florida home. He was 91 years old.
Landwirth arrived in the U.S. with $20 to his name after surviving Nazi death camps as a child and later founded a Kissimmee-based charity organization that has helped thousands of sick children fulfill their dreams.
Landwirth and his twin sister were born in Belgium on March 7, 1927, to his late parents Max and Fanny Landwirth. As a teenager, Landwirth was separated from his family and held captive in a Nazi death camp. He died with his prisoner No. B4343 still tattooed on his forearm.
Before World War II ended, Landwirth was reunited with his twin sister, Margot Glazer, who died in Florida in March 2017.
In 1950, Landwirth was drafted into the U.S. Army. He crafted military radios and later worked as a telephone repairman while in the Army.
Landwirth started his hospitality career in New York City in 1952, before moving to Florida. Landwirth manages the Starlite Motel in Cocoa Beach, which hosted to Mercury Seven astronauts. He would go on to own his own Holiday Inn franchise in Orlando and offer his rooms to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to be used by terminally ill children and their families.
Years after Landwirth opened his first Holiday Inn in Orlando he founded a charity for children after hearing about a girl named Amy who died of leukemia. Her last wish to meet Mickey Mouse before she died went unfulfilled.
Landwirth opened Give Kids the World Village in 1989, giving more than 8,000 critically ill children and their families a vacation at the Kissimmee resort each year. Since the village opened it has welcomed more than 160,000 families from all 50 states and 75 countries.
“Words cannot express the sense of loss we feel today,”said Pamela Landwirth, president and CEO of Give Kids The World and Henri’s former wife. “Henri was a remarkable man who worked tirelessly to help our precious children and their families. He has left behind an enduring legacy of compassion and love.”
Landwirth worked with theme park and hospitality leaders to make children’s dreams come true.
The Give Kids The World Village has grown from 35 acres to 84 acres since its grand opening in 1989.
“I promise each of you, that as long as there is a terminally ill child who dreams of meeting Mickey Mouse, Give Kids The World will be there. Our promise will remain constant: No child in need will ever be turned away,” Landwirth said soon after the village opened.
His three children -- Gary Landwirth, Greg Landwirth and Lisa Ullmann -- and four grandchildren survive Landwirth.
A celebration of life for Landwirth will be held on Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. at Give Kids The World Village.