Wednesday December 19, 2018
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Nicholas Winton: A ray of active goodness in a splintered world


London, Ankunft jüdische Flüchtlinge

By Gaurav Sharma

Reflecting with fond appreciation the courageous efforts of a Nazi party worker to rescue more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from the horrific barbarity of the Holocaust, virtually every viewer of Schindler’s List remains firmly etched to the edge of his seat.

The Hollywood classic immortalized Oskar Schindler by tracing his transformation from a German spy to a humanitarian industrialist.

Although few and far between, history has always been carefully moulded by the confidential craft of Schindler like heroics.

Nicholas Winton, dubbed as the British Schindler, echoed the same bold spirit while rescuing more than 650 children in the erstwhile Czechoslovakia from the terror of the brutal Nazis.

Nicky’s Children

Winton died this week, but not before sheltering, enlivening and fathering the lives of the orphaned Holocaust children.

Comparing with the massacre of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, Winton’s contribution at first glance might not make such a big bang impression.

However, the true worth of Winton’s rescue effort can be fathomed when one witnesses the ballooning of the few hundreds saved in 1939 into a bulky lot of 6,000 people, fondly remembered as ‘Nicky’s Children’.

Much like other selfless humanists, Winton chose not to make a big fuss about his humanitarian expedition.

Had it not been for his wife’s discovery of the dusty briefcase containing the scrapbook which held the names and families of the twice born children, Winton’s philanthropic crusades would have been buried unnoticed.

Turn of Direction, Change of Heart

Professionally, Winton worked at a number of banks as a volunteer, earned a banking qualification from France and later became a stockbroker with the London Stock exchange.

During that period, Winton started associating himself with the left wing circle, morphing into an ardent socialist who was increasingly concerned about the dangers posed by Nazism.

In December 1938–on the eve of the Second World War–Winton had first hand experience of the Nazi threat.

Moving at the behest of his friend Martin Blake, who was incidentally an associate of British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton decided to cancel his Christmas skiing plans and instead decided to help Jewish families desperate to leave Czechoslovakia.

Seeing the wretched plight of throngs of people clamped in massive camps, Winton’s heart turned inside out. Instead of taking the official route of writing to the government, he had the vision to foresee the immediate necessity of taking personal measures.

Sole Strivings

Winton’s rescue efforts involved arduous personal strivings encompassing a plethora of activities.

He commissioned nine trains to send the children away from Czechoslovakia. All this required bribing officials, indulging in forgery apart from making painstaking efforts to contact and arrange donations from families looking for their children.

An impressive eight out of the nine trains were successful in transferring children through Germany to Britain.

Moreover, by forming crucial contacts with the German soldiers, Winton was able to advertise for foster homes in newspapers and also organized residency permits from the UK immigration office.

Relentless Altruism

In spite of contributing so much to the welfare of those caught in the mesh of Nazi brutality, Winton shunned away attempts to dub his efforts as something special.

Winton’s altruistic drive continued even after he came back to Britain, where he set up the Mencap Association to help families with differently abled children.

He also established Abbeyfield Homes, an old age home and another establishment catering to the elderly needs, apart from being an active member of the Rotary International.

In a world splintered by sectarian and civil conflicts– torn apart by Islamic State terrorism in the Middle East, sustained by the utter failure of bureaucratic intervention and brainwashing through patriotism propaganda–individual like Nicholas Winton are shining stars.

Shouting slogans of goodness while being ensconced in a blanket of household comfort is easy . Pursuing active goodness mirroring Winton is hard. Yet, it is the need of the hour.

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Syria and Refugee Crisis to Dominate the upcoming UN Meetings in New York

The second UN meeting will be hosted by President Barack Obama on Tuesday

United Nations headquarters in New York, seen from the East River. Source- Wikimedia commons
  • The meetings at New York will be on various important humanitarian issues but the war in Syria and the refugee crisis which has overwhelmed neighboring countries and Europe will dominate the meeting
  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker hopes that the summit will result in significant new, sustained commitments to U.N. humanitarian appeals, expanded refugee resettlement programs or alternative legal pathways for admission
  • This will be the last General Assembly meeting for Ban Ki-moon as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. His decade-long tenure ends on December 31, 2016

The war in Syria and the refugee crisis it has created are expected to dominate the agenda at the annual U.N. meetings with world leaders in New York next week.

Leaders want to limit the spillover from the Syrian war. Mainly, the human exodus to overwhelmed neighboring countries and Europe. They will discuss the issue at two summits focusing on refugees. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon will host the first meeting on Monday.

“More countries must resettle more people who have been forced from their homes. More countries must recognize the benefits of migration. And everyone, everywhere, must stand up against the animosity that so many refugees, migrants, and minority communities face,” said Ban.

President Barack Obama will host the second summit on Tuesday. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker expects action on humanitarian issues.

“We expect that the summit will result in significant new, sustained commitments to U.N. humanitarian appeals, expanded refugee resettlement programs or alternative legal pathways for admission,” said Crocker.

Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rakban refugee camp. Source-VOA
Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rakban refugee camp.

But there is skepticism from some, such as Richard Gowan of Columbia University, that either summit will do much to improve the situation of the nearly 5 million Syrians who have fled their homeland.

“The only way you solve the Syrian crisis is a political deal. I’m sure there will be some talk about that at the General Assembly, but Vladimir Putin is not coming to New York, and if Putin is not here, you cannot have serious talks about Syria,” said Gowan.

The United States and Russia agreed to a deal earlier this month for a cease-fire and on getting aid into Syria. The two countries also plan to cooperate on targeting terrorists, including the so-called Islamic State. Whether that deal is working or failing will likely shape discussions in New York.

The U.N. Security Council will hold a high-level session Wednesday, intended to put the spotlight on Syria, but expectations for results are low.

“The reality is decisions about Syria are made in Washington, Moscow, and Iran — not in the Security Council chamber,” said Gowan.

The rest of the week will be dominated by leaders’ speeches in the General Assembly.

Some big names like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Angela Merkel will be absent. It will be President Obama’s final time as U.S. president at the international gathering, and his speech will likely lay out his multilateralism legacy.

It will also be Ban Ki-moon’s final General Assembly as U.N. chief. His decade-long tenure ends on December 31.(VOA)