Friday, March 29, 2024

One Life and Nicky's Family: Two Films Dramatize WW II Rescue of Refugees from Prague


One Life and Nicky's Family
Two films depict the rescue of over six hundred children from Nazis


The 2023 biopic One Life concludes with a very moving scene. An elderly man is surprised by a televised celebration of heroic deeds he performed when he was young. I could not resist the scene's power. I cried. I made sniffling sounds. I didn't even try to apply the emotional brakes.


If only the rest of the movie were as good as that final scene.


One Life dramatizes the life of Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE. When he was 29 years old, Winton participated in an effort to save Jewish children from oncoming Nazis. His heroism warrants an uplifting, inspirational, unforgettable film. I was worried when I saw that One Life would be released in the US on March 15. Early March is part of the "dump months" when movies that haven't tested well are released.


One Life is not a bad movie. It's just not good enough. I'd give it a six out of ten, but, given that the subject matter is so important and so appealing, I will nudge that up to a seven. Nicky Winton deserves an eleven out of ten.


As I left the theater, I asked, "Who was Nicholas Winton? Why did he perform these heroic acts? How did he perform them?" One Life didn't answer those questions for me. I spent hours reading about Winton. I stumbled across a movie I'd never heard of before. Nicky's Family is a 2011, English language, Czech and Slovak documentary. It is currently streaming for free. Nicky's Family moved me deeply, answered my questions, and worked for me.


Nicholas Winton (1909 – 2015) was born in London. His parents were German Jewish immigrants named Wertheim. During World War I, they encountered anti-German prejudice. In an effort to assimilate, they converted to Christianity and changed their last name to Wortham. After the war, they changed back to Wertheim, but eventually switched to Winton. Nicholas was baptized in the Church of England. At the elite Stowe school, young Nicholas attended chapel regularly and chose to be confirmed as a Christian. Later he self-identified as an agnostic and a socialist.


Winton's father was a successful banker. The three Winton children grew up in a twenty-room mansion in West Hampstead. At Stowe school, young Winton made connections that lasted for years, including with charismatic Stowe headmaster, J. F. Roxburgh. Roxburgh said that his goal, as an educator, was to produce young men who were "acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck." Winton fenced at Stowe and he would eventually be accepted to his nation's Olympic team. He would never compete, though, as World War II canceled the games. After Stowe, Winton fenced at Salle Bertrand in London. There he fenced against British aristocrat, politician, and antisemite Oswald Mosley. Hitler attended Mosley's second wedding.


Winton was very gifted at mathematics. His father mapped out a career path: international banking, just like dad. Winton's twenties were devoted to his career and to athletics. He worked, inter alia, in Germany and with a company that had business in Czechoslovakia.


Winton was doing well, but during the Depression many were suffering. Concerned for the plight of those less fortunate, Winton joined the Labour Party and became friendly with center-left members of Parliament including Aneurin Bevan, Jennie Lee, Stafford Cripps and George Russell Strauss. His conversations with these persons heightened Winton's awareness of the menace Hitler posed.


In September, 1938, Great Britain, France, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy signed the Munich Agreement. This agreement handed Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland over to Nazi Germany. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain called the agreement "Peace for our time." His assessment is one of the most notorious blunders in history.


World War I had ended just ten short years previously. World War I caused massive loss of life and devastation. Mechanized warfare and the use of gas horrified the public. Trench warfare might involve young men losing their lives over mere feet of territory. Gertrude Stein coined the term "Lost Generation;" Hemingway popularized it. In World War I, "The flower of youth and the best manhood of the peoples" was "mowed down." Survivors felt "disoriented, wandering, directionless." People tired of the recent World War were not eager to fight another one. Sadly, their reluctance helped make another world war inevitable.


Other factors contributed to complacency about Hitler. In the early twentieth century, social Darwinists like bestselling American author Madison Grant had paved the way to make antisemitism and anti-Slavic racism acceptable. Not just Oswald Mosley admired Hitler. Hitler believed that British King Edward VIII, later, the Duke of Windsor, was on Hitler's and Germany's side. Those under the sway of social Darwinism felt that domination by orderly and superior Germany was just what Jews and Eastern Europeans needed.


In short, even though Hitler was clearly a menace, many people wanted to pull the blankets over their heads and ignore the threat. Some historians today argue that had the West resisted Hitler in 1938, Czechoslovakia could have won a costly victory against Nazi Germany. Mark Grimsley, Ohio State history professor, writes that "Germany was not yet ready for a major war … The Czech army alone could have fielded 19 active and 11 reserve divisions against 37 active German divisions. Assuming that the British and French launched a full-scale assault against German defenses along the Siegfried Line … the result would have been a prompt defeat for Germany." Alas, we can't turn back the clock.


After the signing of the Munich agreement, approximately 200,000 refugees flooded into the rest of Czechoslovakia, concentrating in Prague. Perhaps 30,000 were Jews. Others were political activists and writers. They congregated in squalid and chaotic refugee camps. Humanitarians wanted to save as many of these people as they could. Their prescience is remarkable. Probably very few people, in 1938, could imagine the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust, that is, the systematic murder of millions of innocent and defenseless civilians, including men, women, and children.  


Nicholas Winton has been receiving much deserved attention, including in the films One Life and Nicky's Family. But Winton was not alone. Martin Blake was a Labour Party member, an instructional master at the Westminster School, and Winton's friend. In December, 1938, Blake and Winton had planned to take schoolboys on a skiing holiday in Switzerland. Blake phoned Winton and told him to forget about skiing. He needed to come to Prague, Blake said. In Prague, Winton met Doreen Warriner.


Doreen Warriner OBE (1904 – 1972) was an English economist. She became the representative of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. In October, 1938, Warriner arrived in Prague. Warriner assumed that Hitler would eventually take over all of Czechoslovakia; that anticipated military takeover would occur in March, 1939. Warriner knew she was in a race against time. She turned to Quaker and other aid organizations. Funding came from France, the UK, and Canada. She first helped male political refugees escape to England, without their families. Eventually Warriner and her colleagues facilitated escapes for an estimated 15,000 refugees. The Gestapo menaced Warriner, so she left Prague in April, 1939. Back in England, in 1941, Warriner was honored as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire "for services … in connection with refugees leaving Czechoslovakia."


Marie Schmolka was a key feature of Winton's rescue of Jews. Back in 1938, Czech journalist Milena Jesenska wrote this dramatic description of Schmolka's daring efforts. Schmolka "knows personally every person who has crossed the border in the last five years. She knows their destinies, she knows their dangers. Under the flood of these destinies, it was as if her own destiny did not matter. She moves eternally between life and death, between the London, Paris and Prague authorities. She sees almost nothing but hopelessness, and after a terrible effort she manages to wring out a little hope: but she is as wonderfully calm as religious people tend to be."


Marie Schmolka was a Czechoslovak Jewish feminist, Zionist, and rescuer of Jews. She began working with Jewish refugees in 1933, after Hitler took power. In 1936, Schmolka "became the only Czechoslovak representative on the Commission for Refugees at the League of Nations" according to a 2023 article in a Czech magazine. In a 2021 article, The San Diego Jewish World claims that it was Schmolka, not Winton, who devised the plan to send Jewish children to Britain. Schmolka realized that "Britain would be willing to accept numbers of children if they were sent for temporary shelter … They would be welcome only if they were sent alone, without their parents." Winton, who never met Schmolka, accepted Schmolka's plan, according to this article. Czech history Professor Anna Hajkova reports that "Schmolka was a global player in saving refugees from Nazi Germany. She attended the 1938 Evian conference and went to Poland to help Jews … I don't want to dismiss the work of younger guys like Winton, but … she was much more important."


Schmolka worked herself to death, dying of a heart attack at age 46 in 1940. Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk eulogized Schmolka. She was cremated and has no grave. A plaque in Schmolka's honor says, "Schmolka was arrested by the Gestapo and gruelingly interrogated, her life at extreme risk … Her health had been broken by her extreme efforts to save Jews and others … Marie Schmolka saved thousands upon thousands of lives."


Schmolka is a "forgotten hero." "The woman who had saved thousands seemed lost from memory forever." In a 2019 article, the Guardian mentions current efforts in Prague to "rescue Schmolka from obscurity." "Czech historians say her work deserves similar acclaim to that given to Sir Nicholas Winton," the Guardian reports.


I don't remember any mention of Schmolka in either One Life or Nicky's Family. Her name is not listed in the credits for either film at the Internet Movie Database.


Beatrice Gonzales was a Canadian Quaker and a schoolteacher. Alarmed by Hitler's rise, she traveled to Europe and devoted herself to refugee rescue. She has not been awarded the medals that others have, but her family endowed the Beatrice Wellington Gonzales Memorial Scholarship at the University of British Columbia. It commemorates "her strenuous and successful efforts to protect and salvage the lives of political refugees in Europe prior to and during World War II … special consideration" will be given to student recipients "who like Miss Gonzales are concerned about the plight of individuals."


A newspaper dubbed Trevor Chadwick "The Pimpernel of Prague," after the Scarlet Pimpernel, a fictional hero who saved aristocrats from the French Terror. Chadwick is identified less romantically in a book written by William Chadwick, his son. Chadwick the younger describes his father as an unconventional man who drank too much and who had a "distaste for convention, for rules, for etiquette, and a dislike of any sort of pomp and circumstance," qualities that, while "attractive," might "spill over into irresponsibility."


Nevertheless, Chadwick was posthumously named a British Hero of the Holocaust. His description is poignantly worth quoting.


"Chadwick was a schoolmaster who quit his job … to risk his life forging papers for Jewish refugees. Working closely with Sir Nicholas Winton, Doreen Warriner and others, Chadwick organised the evacuation of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia … Chadwick was responsible for ensuring every child got on the train safely when leaving their parents and personally escorted the children from Prague to London. Chadwick once recalled a trip he made from Prague to London with 20 Jewish children in March 1939, just days before German forces invaded Czechoslovakia: 'They were all cheerfully sick … except a baby of one who slept peacefully in my lap the whole time.' Sir Nicholas Winton, a key figure in the Kindertransport, later commented that Chadwick was 'the real hero' as he 'did the more difficult and dangerous work after the Nazis invaded … he deserves all the praise. He managed things at the Prague end, organising the children and the trains, and dealing with the SS and Gestapo.'"


Summoned by his friend Martin Blake, twenty-nine-year-old banker Nicholas Winton observed the humanitarian tragedy and chaos in Czechoslovakia and focused not on the vastness of the task at hand nor the danger posed by Nazism. He focused on children. He harnessed his remarkable skills at organization. He called on the youthful stamina of an Olympic-level athlete. He would regularly work till one a.m. and start work again at six a.m. He exercised the boundless self-confidence of a beloved son of successful parents. His mom helped. And Winton benefitted from the work of the above-mentioned, lesser-known heroes and heroines.


Winton would, eventually, assign himself a title, design his own letterhead and rubber stamps, and begin asking everyone he could think of to help facilitate the removal of children from danger, and their entry into foster homes. He didn't just manifest the emotional gift of compassion. His analytical skills developed something like a big machine of his own invention. He had to, first, compile a list of potential child refugees. Just getting the list was a challenge he met by fibbing to five competing refugee committees that if they didn't get him a complete list within 24 hours, he'd use a competitor committee's list. He required a photo of each child, one that made the child look attractive to potential foster parents. Each child needed a medical certificate and there had to be fifty pounds – about four or five thousand dollars in today's money – for the child's repatriation once danger passed. He needed passports and visas. The transit papers had to be good enough to convince Nazis checking documents. Winton would later acknowledge that he used forgery when necessary. Even after a transport was approved, Nazis might stop it. Winton would later report that he had to dig up money for bribes.


Winton approached the US. America kept the door closed. Some previous history explains why. Between c. 1880 and 1924, American saw a flood of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. These immigrants were largely impoverished peasants. They smelled, they behaved in alien ways, they were often Jewish or Catholic, both religions hated by the likes of the Klan, and they lacked formal education. Social Darwinism identified them, not as people from a different culture who could Americanize with time and training, but as inferior species of humans who could never assimilate and would always be a burden.


"From the 1920s to the 1960s," The Saturday Evening Post "was one of the most widely circulated and influential magazines for the American middle class." In the early twentieth century, the Post published a series of articles by bestselling novelist Kenneth Roberts. Roberts voiced the social Darwinist point of view. He expressed special contempt for Eastern Europeans. In 1920, Roberts wrote in the Post that "dirty … backward … odiferous … thickheaded … illiterate" Eastern Europeans who sleep with "sheep and cows and pigs and poultry" could never become Americans any more than a "pug dog" could become a "race horse."


In 1924, America passed restrictive immigration legislation that reduced the allowable number of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Breckinridge Long made sure that the 1924 act was upheld throughout World War II, in spite of the Nazi threat to Jews and others. Long, who ran unsuccessfully for office as a Democrat and who served two Democratic presidents, was a personal friend of American President Roosevelt. Long served as Assistant Secretary of State during World War II, between 1940 and 1944. Long called Mussolini's Italy "the most interesting experiment in government to come above the horizon since the formulation of our Constitution." After reading Mein Kampf in 1938, Long wrote in his diary, "Have just finished Hitler's Mein Kampf. It is eloquent in opposition to Jewry and to Jews as exponents of Communism & chaos. My estimate of Hitler as a man rises with the reading of his book."


Long didn't have a problem only with Jews. Long used his power to prevent racially undesirable immigrants "from Russia and Poland," including Jews, from entering the United States. Long denounced Eastern Europeans as "entirely unfit to become citizens of this country … they are lawless, scheming, defiant, and in many ways unassimilable" Long condemned not "the Jew alone" but "all that Slav population of Eastern Europe."


Not just the US threw up barriers to rescue. Escaping children crossed to England from the Hook of Holland. The Netherlands closed its border to Jewish refugees after Kristallnacht in November, 1938. The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee hunted down and returned Jews to Germany (see here.)


Additionally, Winton encountered some minor resistance from a couple of rabbis. They asked him if he was placing Jewish children in Christian homes. Yes, he replied. "That must stop," they ordered.


"It won't stop," he told them. "And if you prefer a dead Jew in Prague to a live one who is being brought up in a Christian home, that's your problem not mine."


Winton's wartime heroism remained unknown until 1988. Winton's wife, Grete Gjelstrup, who had resisted the Nazis in her native Denmark, was cleaning the attic when she came across a scrapbook that documented Winton's refugee work. She gave it to Holocaust scholar Elizabeth Maxwell, wife of media baron Robert Maxwell and mother of Ghislaine. (Ghislaine Maxwell would be convicted in the US of sex trafficking in 2021.) Esther Rantzen, of the TV show That's Life, hosted a broadcast in which Winton was reunited with many of the children, now all grown up, that he had saved fifty years earlier. This emotional reunion brought attention to Winton's wartime work. Winton remained in touch with his "children" until his death at age 106 in 2015.


Why did Winton's wartime heroism remain hidden for so long? Throughout his life, Winton was focused on the needs of right now. One suspects that that focus on the present moment helped him tremendously in his refugee work. Once the Nazis made that work impossible, Winton moved on to the next task at hand. He served in the RAF during the war. He helped with refugee resettlement after the war. For the Reparations Department of the International Refugee Organization, he took on the "grisly process" of monetizing Nazi loot, including gold teeth, to raise money to fund Jewish refugees. He worked for decent housing for mentally handicapped and Alzheimer's patients. His life inspired many to perform their own good deeds.  


One Life was released in the US on March 15, 2024. It is an almost two-hour long biopic directed by James Hawes, best known for his work in TV, with a screenplay by Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake. It stars Anthony Hopkins as old Nicholas Winton and Johnny Flynn as young Winton. One Life has a 90% professional and 94% fan score at Rotten Tomatoes. Internet Movie Database fan reviewers are less enthusiastic, awarding the film 7.6 stars out of a possible 10. Recent fan reviews laud the film for bringing to light the efforts of a lesser known hero, but also mention that the film is not particularly gripping, innovative, or deep. "Incredible story; underwhelming delivery," reads one review. Another, "an incredible story made into an average film." And another, "disappointing montage."


One Life switches back and forth between the life of the elderly Nicholas Winton. He is an old man trying to neaten up his house. His wife (Lena Olin) wants some of his paraphernalia gone. He, silently, walks about the house gathering up items. He empties out his swimming pool and burns some of his items. In intercut scenes, Johnny Flynn, as the younger Nicholas Winton, travels to Prague and sees poor refugees living in tents during a harsh winter. One Life ends with a reenactment of the famous 1988 reunion on That's Life. The real reunion is viewable on YouTube.


One Life struck this viewer as a paint-by-numbers TV movie. I didn't hate it, and I'm glad I saw it because it introduced me to a hero I'd never previously heard of.


Anthony Hopkins didn't work for me as Nicholas Winton. Now that I've watched several interviews with the real Winton across several years of his long life, I like Hopkins' performance even less. The real Winton was a very charming man with a perpetual twinkle in his eye and a lot of oomph. His Jewish ancestry is apparent in his features. As he aged he looked more and more like Henry Kissinger.


Forty-one-year-old singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn is miscast as Nicholas Winton. Flynn previously brought his too-cool-for-school acting style to an impersonation of David Bowie in Stardust. The Flynn I saw in the One Life got lost in every scene. He wasn't the focus of my attention. I wasn't interested in this opaque figure walking around Prague appearing, possibly, sad, but certainly not capable of historic heroism.


Lena Olin, a veteran, multiple-award-winning actress, is given just about nothing to do as Grete Gjelstrup. Helena Bonham Carter, at 57, is still a great beauty. She plays Winton's mother, Babi. Babi is imperious, she speaks with a German accent, and she wears a fur coat. Babi approaches a British bureaucrat. The bureaucrat turns down her request. Here Babi is that tried-and-true movie cliché, the spunky female who bests the heartless bureaucrat. Babi speaks forcefully to the bureaucrat about the plight of the refugee children. He relents. We've seen scenes like this many times. I wish the movie had refurbished this cliché.


The one performer in the film who made me sit up and take notice was Romola Garai as Doreen Warriner. She struck me as the one person in the cast who seemed to realize that the Nazis were approaching and that urgent action needed to be taken, fast.


One Life's scenes of refugee suffering appear to have been shot on a very tight budget. We get some people in ragged clothing on a Prague street, not a sense of hundreds of thousands of people shivering in the cold.


Depicting the refugees as uniformly poor distorted an important historical reality. "In the 1930s, Czechoslovakia ranked as a major European industrial country, enjoying a strong tradition of craftsmen skilled in producing machinery and other manufactures and of businessmen adept in exporting these goods."


Czech refugees didn't start out as ragged, flea-bitten tent dwellers begging for food. Czech Jews were often urban and white collar. They were integrated members of their society. They wore fashionable clothing and were multilingual. Czech Jews were more likely than other Eastern European Jews to be secularized, without strong religious observance, and to be assimilated. Czech and Moravian Jews had the highest rate of intermarriage in Europe. George Kennan said, "The Czech intelligentsia, and the wealthy landowning society, are very extensively bound up with Jewish society through intermarriage" (see here).


There are many archival photos of these refugees on the web. You see kids in cute sailor suits and women in fur coats. These people, people like us, people who had clean and comfortable homes, people who were their neighbors' doctors, professors, employers, and accountants, suddenly found themselves dispossessed, unwanted, homeless, abandoned to one of the most monstrous human beings and ideologies in all of human history.


Well-to-do people are not better than poor people. But "the poor you will always have with you" and we are used to the problems of poverty. Czech Jewish refugees' plight is more shocking, and perhaps something that modern Americans can relate to more easily. People who had achieved much in life, who were accepted and important members of society, found themselves, in a very short period of time, the target of and abandoned to genocidal hatred. If it happened to people like them, it could happen to people like us.


I want movies like One Life, that celebrate heroes, to be made, and I want people to pay for tickets to see them, so that more will be made. I'm glad I paid for my ticket. But One Life was not the movie I wanted.


I found the movie I wanted when I watched a 2011 Czech and Slovak, English language docudrama, Nicky's Family. It's streaming now on Amazon and other sites. Nicky's Family was directed by Matej Minac and written by Minac and Patrik Pass. An IMDB review states, "I think I cried through most of the movie." I didn't write that review, but the reviewer speaks for me. Nicky's Family did everything for me that One Life did not do: it combined compelling imagery with emotional heft and a thorough, detailed, historical background. It also brought the Winton story up to 2011.


Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger is the film's debonair host. Silver fox Schlesinger exudes all the charisma and enthusiasm of the classic film star, Cary Grant. Schlesinger is in his vibrant eighties in the film. He grew up in Bratislava and was one of the children rescued by Nicholas Winton. Schlesinger guides the viewer through Nicky's Family's various modes of presentation. The film includes archival footage of Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, the Nazi invasion, and the actual children rescued by Winton. There are well-produced dramatizations of key scenes. These dramatizations are so well done that at times I had to strain to differentiate between archival footage and reenactments. Nicky's Family also includes lively and detailed interviews with other Jews Winton saved, and with Winton himself. These reminiscences are alternately heart-warming, heart-breaking, and laugh-out-loud funny. Final scenes show survivors with their own grandchildren; these scenes emphasize that Winton didn't just make the lives of the kids he saved possible; he also made possible these many grandchildren.


One aspect of Nicky's Family was particularly sobering. I have read many memoirs of Jews who grew up in pre-war Poland and Czechoslovakia. Contrary to what one might expect, these memoirs describe pleasant, and even idyllic childhoods.


Yes antisemitism reached a fever pitch in the interwar West, from the US to Poland. But in many memoirs, the rise in antisemitism is experienced as a distant rumble. Memoirists like Jerzy Kluger report having Christian friends and comfortable lives. Memoirist Leon Weliczker Wells is one of many who reports that no one could have conceived that Germany, widely regarded as the most civilized and modern country in the world, could descend into diabolical evil.


In Nicky's Family, Schlesinger emphasizes how at home he was in Bratislava as a child. "It was a pleasant, tolerable, multicultural and multilingual place." He loved going to cafes with his father and playing chess and drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream. On meeting a woman, the custom was to say "I kiss your hand." Schlessinger repeats the phrase, in Czech, Slovak, German, and Hungarian. Kurt Stern remembers his father winning many prizes in dance competitions at the famous resort town of Karlovy Vary, aka Carlsbad. "We had a good life until the Nazis took over."


Malka Sternberg reports that one day a Nazi officer came to her school. The officer demanded, "Who are the Jewish children? You sit in the back." After the Nazi left the class, the Czech headmaster announced, "'From now on, the back seat is the seat of honor. Only the best children sit there.' That was Czechoslovakia," she concludes, remembering the best of her natal country.


John Fieldsend, another Winton survivor, describes an incident from his childhood in Dresden. His father took him to see a doctor after he cut his head. "That needs stitching, but I don't stitch Jews," the doctor said.


One man, Adolf Hitler, changed the world for millions of people. It is sobering to contemplate the horrible changes that can occur because of one bad man and the many who follow him.


Winton is credited with saving over 669 children. That number is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall death toll of World War II. Those saved by Winton had every reason to be resentful, enraged, and bitter, to want to seek revenge. Their entire families and their entire extended community were wiped out. In Nicky's Family, a survivor remembers. Her mother gave her clothes for the trip to England. She gave her daughter not only dresses that would fit her in 1938, but also for years into the future. Both this mother and daughter knew that the mother would not survive, and they would never met again.


After the war, a former member of the Sonderkommando informed Hanus Weber of the ultimate fate of his mother, brother, and ten other children. This former concentration camp prisoner, assigned by the Nazis to handling mass extermination, told Weber's mother and the eleven children in her care to sing. They would thereby inhale more gas and their end would come quickly. The adults in Nicky's Family had every reason to surrender to despair.


Nicky's Family reveals the path these survivors chose. They focused on the positive. One child's father, in his last words to her, told her to be brave and cheerful. Schlesinger's father, in a final letter, told him not to forget the precepts he was taught at home; he prayed that the Almighty would allow his son to grow into a just and decent man.  


The refugees are genuinely grateful to those who showed them kindness. Kurt Stern was sent, in England, to live with a Methodist farm family. They had a thatched roof, no electricity, and an outhouse, all very shocking to Stern, who had been used to childhood outings to Karlovy Vary. He feared that the thatch roof would fall on him. But, "They were good to us. They were real Christians in the true sense of the word." Hugo Marom is grateful to an English taxi driver, who lived in a one-room apartment with his wife and child, who put up five refugee boys and bought them fish and chips. "The poorer people were, the kinder they were," he reports. Vera Gissing says that when she met her adoptive mother, the woman spoke four words to her in English, words that Vera did not understand. She discovered later that her foster mother was assuring her, "You shall be loved."


Many of these refugees, in spite of their agonizing history, became model citizens, and contributed to the countries that took them in. This was encouraged. Tom Berman reports that the children were taken on educational trips. "We went to old age homes and learned that we are not the center of the universe. There are other people out there who have problems and needs and maybe you can do something about it."


Do something about it they did. Benjamin Abeles became an award-winning physicist whose contributions helped make space exploration possible. Vera Gissing became a published author. Eva Hayman became a nurse. "Coming to England made me grateful for life, but also guilty for being alive. Here I was alive, and my parents were dead. I didn't suffer, and they had suffered ... On the other hand, whether I wanted it or not, as a nurse I had a tool to help other people with a different kind of suffering. So I thought maybe there is a reason why I survived." Renata Laxova became a pediatrician who made important medical discoveries. Hugo Marom was one of the founders of the Israeli Air Force. Nicky's Family closes with accounts of people from various countries, inspired by Winton, who have done good deeds.


Danusha Goska is the author of God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery



No comments:

Post a Comment

Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
This blog welcomes comments from readers that address those themes. Off-topic and anti-Semitic posts are likely to be deleted.
Your comment is more likely to be posted if:
Your comment includes a real first and last name.
Your comment uses Standard English spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Your comment uses I-statements rather than You-statements.
Your comment states a position based on facts, rather than on ad hominem material.
Your comment includes readily verifiable factual material, rather than speculation that veers wildly away from established facts.
T'he full meaning of your comment is clear to the comment moderator the first time he or she glances over it.
You comment is less likely to be posted if:
You do not include a first and last name.
Your comment is not in Standard English, with enough errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar to make the comment's meaning difficult to discern.
Your comment includes ad hominem statements, or You-statements.
You have previously posted, or attempted to post, in an inappropriate manner.
You keep repeating the same things over and over and over again.