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.
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.
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.
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.