Some speakers get a standing ovation after a moving presentation. Henri Landwirth has been known to get hugs - from every member of the audience.
Landwirth, who is a Holocaust survivor, goes around telling his story to as many people as possible in the hope that one day, the hatred that caused him unimaginable abuse and suffering at the concentration camps will no longer exist.
"It's an extremely important time for me to speak about the terrible problems we are facing," he said. "Throughout the world we have Holocausts right now."
After one of his appearances, students at Florida Community College of Jacksonville were motivated to start a student group, Helping You Pursue Equality (HYPE).
"I'd never met a Holocaust survivor," said student Jeremiah Guyette, one of the founders of HYPE. "My sister met Elie Wiesel and I thought it was fascinating. I thought it'd be great to meet [Henri]. HYPE stemmed from a reaction of students and teachers who attended."
Soon after its creation, HYPE became a part of Landwirth's Hate Hurts project and assumed that name. On the project's Web site, visitors can find tools to help teach about the Holocaust and the hatred we face today.
Sandalwood High School history teacher Patrick Nolan (Jacksonville, Florida) met Landwirth at one of his presentations. Nolan, who has been studying the Holocaust for years, was inspired by Landwirth to develop a semester course devoted to it.
"I wanted to have at least 25 students in the class," said Nolan. "What I got were 45 students, and several other students have told me they're interested in taking it next year. I might end up teaching it twice a semester!"
For Guyette, becoming involved with Hate Hurts has been a life-changing experience and also one that has given him high hopes for humankind.
"You don't need to go out and save the world in a day, but maybe the one kind word you said or even the one unkind word you didn't say will touch someone,” said Guyette. "It's like that effect where a butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world and then a hurricane shows up over here. We're responsible for each other and we forget that.”
That's just the inspiration Landwirth is trying to spread for as long as he is able to. "Soon, there will be nobody around [who lived through the Holocaust] and they'll have to learn from books. I'm 80 years old. I'm running out of time." he said.
Landwirth uses any means necessary to impart his story and his message to everyone he comes in contact with, even in as simple a form as a hug.
"With one audience, 400 or 500 students were present, I said 'We do not hug each other enough!’ And at least 100 students, if not more, lined up and I hugged them all for an hour and 15 minutes," said Landwirth.
"Now I tell everyone to hug, and if I see you, you'll get a hug from me," he said laughing.
Landwirth has taken his message of hope and love conquering hate to YouTube (see below) (2008).
A Lesson in Miracles: To Holocaust survivor Henri Landwirth, the gift of life is a miracle—and a mission. NEA Today interview. April 2007.