View Full Version : "Nicky's Family" - True story of Winton's acts of humanity & kindness defying Holocaust in Prague

Peter Lemkin
01-22-2011, 05:33 AM
Winton, now 101 years old attended the opening of the film in Prague on Jan 20, 2011. It will open in the theaters around the world in early February.

Some of "Winton's children" attended the premiere of Mináč's film. (ČTK)

Prague, Jan 20 (CTK) - Sir Nicholas Winton, 101, of Britain attended Thursday the premiere of Slovak director Matej Minac's documentary Nicky's Family on how he saved the lives of 669 Jewish children from then Czechoslovakia just before World War Two broke out.

The film was presented by Czech Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra.

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel was also present at the premiere.

Winton told the audiences that the film was a strong experience for him too. He pointed out two words: ethics and compromise.

Czech Senate deputy chairman Premysl Sobotka proposed Winton for Nobel Peace Prize Thursday following the screening.

Sobotka handed the letter nominating Sir Winton for the prize to Jens Eikaas, Norwegian Ambassador to the Czech Republic.

A petition signed by more than 100,000 Czech children supports Winton's nomination.

"It is a great honour for me to hand this nomination letter and it is also great satisfaction. Last year I signed a nomination letter for Sir Nicholas and the signatures under the petition were a great support to me," Sobotka said.

"Actions of people like him prove to us that an individual may do a great deal for peace, freedom and democracy and that an active life with a clean sheet is meaningful," he said.

To save the children, Winton had to secure departure permits for all children from Germans, entry permits from the British authorities and admission to British families. These children would have otherwise ended up in concentration camps, having a small chance of surviving.

Winton arrived in Prague on Wednesday afternoon to attend the premiere of Nicky's Family.

Some of "Winton's children" attended the premiere of Minac's film in Prague's Congress Centre Thursday. Ten of them also appeared in the film.

Nicky's Family is a documentary with acted sequences, including facts and testimonies about Winton's rescue plan that have not been made public so far.

The film shows how Winton's act of courage positively influenced tens of thousands of young people all over the world, Minac said on Wednesday.

Thursday's screening was also attended by young people from all over the Czech Republic involved on the Lottery of Life international educational programme, who were inspired by Winton.

The audience gave Winton standing ovations when he entered the hall.

On the scene, Winton met pupils from a school bearing his name in Kunzak, south Bohemia, who initiated the petition for awarding Nobel Peace Prize to him.

Asked why his story inspires young people, Winton said it can give them a certain instruction and stimulus to what they should do in the future.

Minac said he was fascinated by Winton's story. This is why he has made already three films based on it.

Minac shot the feature film All My Loved Ones (1999) telling the story of one boy rescued by Winton and the Emmy-awarded documentary Power of Good: Nicholas Winton (2001).

The new film Nicky's Family will be released to Czech cinemas on February 3. It will also be presented in the United States, Britain and Slovakia as well as at international film festivals.

"During the shooting of the film we flew around the Earth six times and visited some 20 countries. We spent unbelievable 4000 hours in the editing room," said Patrik Pass, the script co-author, co-producer and editor of the documentary.

Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

In 1998, Winton received a high Czech state decoration, the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk from then Czech president Vaclav Havel.
Film on Jewish kids' rescue from 1939 Prague


PRAGUE — A documentary on the rescue of 669 Jewish children from pre-war Czechoslovakia by a British man dubbed the "English Schindler" premiered in Prague Thursday before hitting cinemas on February 3.

The premiere of "Nicky's Family" was attended by the 101-year-old Sir Nicholas Winton, who arranged for the children to be hosted by British families and negotiated their departure with the occupying Nazi Germans between March and September 1939.

"It gives an indication to the future. I don't think it helps to look in the past," Winton said about his story to a hall full of young people taking part in an educational project inspired by the rescue and spanning 17 countries.

Winton has been called the "English Schindler," in reference to Oskar Schindler, whose rescue of hundreds of Jews in wartime Poland was immortalised in Steven Spielberg's film "Schindler's List."

Winton's story only came to light by chance 50 years later when his wife found papers relating to it in a battered briefcase in his attic.

Over 100,000 Czech children have signed a petition for Winton to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

"The story has an immense energy. When we travelled the world, we could see how it is passed on to the young generation which asks what it can do to make the world different," said film producer Patrik Pass.

The filmmakers produced 500 hours of film material and visited 20 countries to talk to the "Winton children," some of whom attended the premiere in Prague. Up to now, 261 of the 669 have been traced.

"Many of the Winton children who are alive do not know the story. We're looking for them," said the film's Slovak director Matej Minac, whose documentary "Nicholas Winton - The Power of Good" won the International Emmy Award in 2002.

In one scene -- one of a few using actors to illustrate the atmosphere -- a mother has to decide whether to leave a weeping child on the train or whether to take her back home.

"We met a woman, a Winton child, in Washington, and she said it was her sister's story... it was like 'Sophie's Choice'," said Minac, referring to the William Styron novel set during the Holocaust.

And, recalling a moment from the shooting, he added: "Everybody was moved, everybody started to cry, and I could suddenly see the scene had mystically returned, because this is what it must have been like on the platform all those 70 years ago."

Nazi Germany seized former Czechoslovakia in March 1939, less than six months after having carved off a swathe of its territory, and six months before the outbreak of World War II.

Magda Hassan
01-22-2011, 06:28 AM
Wonderful man :worship:. Naturally he is too much a humanitarian and peacemaker to be suitable for the Nobel peace prize. I believe that it is reserved for war criminals or useful tools of the empire. angryfire

Peter Lemkin
01-22-2011, 07:14 AM
He kept what he did to himself [known only to those children he saved...and they didn't know his name] for 50 years! Talk about modesty. I was present the first time he came to Prague and was to be shown a short documentary on his 'kindertransport' and given a medal by the Prague Jewish Community. After the showing of the film [not this new movie - this was some years ago and a much shorter documentary film] the packed room stood in applause for perhaps 15 minutes. Not a dry eye in the house and many sobbing uncontrollably. Then people sat down. But about 20 persons remained standing. When the room was again quiet and most who had no idea why these 20 were standing and were looking at them, they quietly and quickly came up to the front of the room where Winton was seated and surrounded him, facing him. One by one they said, "My name is _________. You, Nicholas Winton saved my life. I am here today only because of the love you showed toward a stranger. Shalom!" And then the next, and the next. Winton had never before seen any of his saved children, all of whom were now in their 60s or 70s. They all hugged and they all cried, as did everyone in the room. It is a moment I shall NEVER forget. I'm crying as I write this now, just remembering.

If one person can do so much good, why can't we defeat those individuals who do so much evil? It only takes more like Winton, willing to make the effort; sense the need and what must be done; construct a plan; and carry it out, despite the difficulties and dangers. If you can, do see the film. Ten of the actual saved children are in it. The others are played by actors, but every part of the film is true - it all happened as it is shown. He had to break some rules and even bend some laws to accomplish what he did. He still regrets he couldn't save more. That was not really the problem. The problem was there were too few 'Wintons'. With too many evil people acting - and too few potentially good ones doing nothing in the face of all that evil.

This is our problem today too.

There is an old Jewish saying to honor a very good person. "May you live to be a thousand years." Nicholas Winton, may you live to be a thousand! - but your goodness will carry on forever, for those children he saved have children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Perhaps more important, he like Schindler, like Wallenberg, like the Wit Rosa, like many others, both known and unknown, set a moral example for others to follow.

Magda Hassan
01-22-2011, 07:19 AM
Oh, Peter, that is beautiful. What a privilege to be there at that moment and to see that, be part of that. One person can do so much and many people together are unstoppable.

Peter Lemkin
01-22-2011, 08:15 AM
The Story

In December 1938, Nicholas Winton, a 29-year-old London stockbroker, was about to leave for a skiing holiday in Switzerland, when he received a phone call from his friend Martin Blake asking him to cancel his holiday and immediately come to Prague: "I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help. Don't bother bringing your skis." When Winton arrived, he was asked to help in the camps, in which thousands of refugees were living in appalling conditions.


The Munich Conference was held September 29-30, 1938, following Hitler's demand to annex the Sudetenland, a region in Czechoslovakia populated largely by ethnic Germans. The resulting crisis led Britain and France, who had adopted a policy of appeasement, to pressure Czechoslovakia to accede to Hitler's demands. No Czech representative was present at the conference, and the agreement led to the destruction of the Czech state. Following the conference, Winston Churchill warned: "Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning."

In October 1938, after the ill-fated Munich Agreement between Germany and the Western European powers, the Nazis annexed a large part of western Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland. Winton was convinced that the German occupation of the rest of the country would soon follow. To him and many others, the outbreak of war seemed inevitable. The news of Kristallnacht, the bloody pogrom (violent attack) against German and Austrian Jews on the nights of November 9 and 10, 1938, had reached Prague. Winton decided to take steps.
"I found out that the children of refugees and other groups of people who were enemies of Hitler weren't being looked after. I decided to try to get permits to Britain for them. I found out that the conditions which were laid down for bringing in a child were chiefly that you had a family that was willing and able to look after the child, and £50, which was quite a large sum of money in those days, that was to be deposited at the Home Office. The situation was heartbreaking. Many of the refugees hadn't the price of a meal. Some of the mothers tried desperately to get money to buy food for themselves and their children. The parents desperately wanted at least to get their children to safety when they couldn't manage to get visas for the whole family. I began to realize what suffering there is when armies start to march."

In terms of his mission, Winton was not thinking in small numbers, but of thousands of children. He was ready to start a mass evacuation.
"Everybody in Prague said, 'Look, there is no organization in Prague to deal with refugee children, nobody will let the children go on their own, but if you want to have a go, have a go.' And I think there is nothing that can't be done if it is fundamentally reasonable."


On December 2, 1938, Jewish and Christian agencies began rescuing German and Austrian Jewish children on Kindertransporten (children's transports). The "Refugee Children's Movement," a group under the auspices of the Central British Fund for German Jewry or CBF (which later became the World Jewish Relief organization), urged concerned Christians and Jews to support "Operation Kindertransport." An extensive fund-raising effort was organized and the British public responded generously, raising half a million British pounds in six months. A large portion of this money was used to care for the children who were rescued. Between December 1938 and May 1940, almost 10,000 children (infants to teenagers) were rescued and given shelter at farms, hostels, camps, and in private homes in Britain. However, this effort did not include the children of Czechoslovakia; and this is why the work of Nicholas Winton was so vital.

Independently of Operation Kindertransport (see sidebar), Nicholas Winton set up his own rescue operation. At first, Winton's office was a dining room table at his hotel in Wenceslas Square in Prague. Anxious parents, who gradually came to understand the danger they and their children were in, came to Winton and placed the future of their children into his hands. Soon, an office was set up on Vorsilska Street, under the charge of Trevor Chadwick. Thousands of parents heard about this unique endeavor and hundreds of them lined up in front of the new office, drawing the attention of the Gestapo. Winton's office distributed questionnaires and registered the children. Winton appointed Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti to look after the Prague end when he returned to England. Many further requests for help came from Slovakia, a region east of Prague.

Winton contacted the governments of nations he thought could take in the children. Only Sweden and his own government said yes. Great Britain promised to accept children under the age of 18 as long as he found homes and guarantors who could deposit £50 for each child to pay for their return home.

Because he wanted to save the lives of as many of the endangered children as possible, Winton returned to London and planned the transport of children to Great Britain. He worked at his regular job on the Stock Exchange by day, and then devoted late afternoons and evenings to his rescue efforts, often working far into the night. He made up an organization, calling it "The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children's Section." The committee consisted of himself, his mother, his secretary and a few volunteers.

Winton had to find funds to use for repatriation costs, and a foster home for each child. He also had to raise money to pay for the transports when the children's parents could not cover the costs. He advertised in British newspapers, and in churches and synagogues. He printed groups of children's photographs all over Britain. He felt certain that seeing the children's photos would convince potential sponsors and foster families to offer assistance. Finding sponsors was only one of the endless problems in obtaining the necessary documents from German and British authorities.
"Officials at the Home Office worked very slowly with the entry visas. We went to them urgently asking for permits, only to be told languidly, 'Why rush, old boy? Nothing will happen in Europe.' This was a few months before the war broke out. So we forged the Home Office entry permits."

On March 14, 1939, Winton had his first success: the first transport of children left Prague for Britain by airplane. Winton managed to organize seven more transports that departed from Prague's Wilson Railway Station. The groups then crossed the English Channel by boat and finally ended their journey at London's Liverpool Street station. At the station, British foster parents waited to collect their charges. Winton, who organized their rescue, was set on matching the right child to the right foster parents.

The last trainload of children left on August 2, 1939, bringing the total of rescued children to 669. It is impossible to imagine the emotions of parents sending their children to safety, knowing they may never be reunited, and impossible to imagine the fears of the children leaving the lives they knew and their loved ones for the unknown.

On September 1, 1939 the biggest transport of children was to take place, but on that day Hitler invaded Poland, and all borders controlled by Germany were closed. This put an end to Winton's rescue efforts. Winton has said many times that the vision that haunts him most to this day is the picture of hundreds of children waiting eagerly at Wilson Station in Prague for that last aborted transport.

"Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared. None of the 250 children aboard was seen again. We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain. If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling."

The significance of Winton's mission is verified by the fate of that last trainload of children. Moreover, most of the parents and siblings of the children Winton saved perished in the Holocaust.

After the war, Nicholas Winton didn't tell anyone, not even his wife Grete about his wartime rescue efforts. In 1988, a half century later, Grete found a scrapbook from 1939 in their attic, with all the children's photos, a complete list of names, a few letters from parents of the children to Winton and other documents. She finally learned the whole story. Today the scrapbooks and other papers are held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, in Israel.

Grete shared the story with Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust historian and the wife of newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell. Robert Maxwell arranged for his newspaper to publish articles on Winton's amazing deeds. Winton's extraordinary story led to his appearance on Esther Rantzen's BBC television program, That's Life. In the studio, emotions ran high as Winton's "children" introduced themselves and expressed their gratitude to him for saving their lives. Because the program was aired nationwide, many of the rescued children also wrote to him and thanked him. Letters came from all over the world, and new faces still appear at his door, introducing themselves by names that match the documents from 1939.

The rescued children, many now grandparents, still refer to themselves as "Winton's children." Among those saved are the British film director Karel Reisz (The French Lieutenant's Woman, Isadora, and Sweet Dreams), Canadian journalist and news correspondent for CBC, Joe Schlesinger (originally from Slovakia), Lord Alfred Dubs (a former Minister in the Blair Cabinet), Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines (a patron of the arts whose father, Rudolf Fleischmann, saved Thomas Mann from the Nazis), Dagmar Símová (a cousin of the former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright), Tom Schrecker, (a Reader's Digest manager), Hugo Marom (a famous aviation consultant, and one of the founders of the Israeli Air Force), and Vera Gissing (author of Pearls of Childhood) and coauthor of Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation.

Winton has received many acknowledgements for his humanitarian pre-war deeds. He received a letter of thanks from the late Ezer Weizman, a former president of the State of Israel. He was made an Honorary Citizen of Prague. In 1993, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded him the MBE (Member of the British Empire), and on October 28, 1998, Václav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic, awarded him the Order of T.G. Masaryk at Hradcany Castle for his heroic achievement. On December 31, 2002, Winton received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to humanity. Winton's story is also the subject of two films by Czech filmmaker Matej Mináč: All My Loved Ones and the award-winning Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good. (http://www.wintonfilm.com/nove/en/index_en.html)

Today, Sir Nicholas Winton, age 101, resides at his home in Maidenhead, Great Britain. He still wears a ring given to him by some of the children he saved. It is inscribed with a line from the Talmud, the book of Jewish law. It reads:
"Save one life, save the world."

Peter Lemkin
01-22-2011, 09:28 AM