Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nicholas Winton, Or how an unmarried stockbroker rescued hundreds of foreign children

Last night, Michael and I watched Nicky's Family on DVD (thank you, Netflix.) It was the story of Nicholas Winton and the lasting effect of his pre-WWII efforts.

Back in December 1938, British-born Nicholas was packing for a ski trip to Switzerland when a friend named Martin Blake called and asked to meet him in Prague instead. Martin was involved in with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia and needed Nicholas' help in figuring out how best to aid Czech people fleeing the German annexation of the Sudetenland. So, the ski trip was off.

Nicholas was moved by the plight of these displaced Czech people, their desperation. They expected that war would soon be upon them, and young parents were understandably anxious about the safety of their children. Using Martin's contacts and then establishing his own official network (including a spy and some fake documents and rubber stamping), Nicholas created the pipeline called the Czech Kindertransport which functioned until the Nazis shut it down at the start of war on Sept. 1, 1939. His work resulted in 669 Czech children, mostly Jewish, being transported safely by rail and boat to England and placed with British families for the duration of the war.

Many of the parents who sent their children off to the homes of foreign strangers themselves perished in the war and the Holocaust. It is therefore believed that Nicholas' program saved the lives of those 669 children.

A humble man, Nicholas never spoke of his efforts afterward. It wasn't until 1988 that his wife discovered a scrapbook he kept with photos and names of each of the children. She led the effort to contact these now-grown children and organized the first of many 'family' reunions. When he died at age 106, Nicholas' 'family' had grown to a world-wide, multi-generation family well over 5000 strong.

All because one man decided to do One Right Thing.

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