In 1939, British stockbroker Nicholas Winton prepared to go on a skiing vacation; however, a friend named Martin Blake called him and said, “I have a most interesting assignment, and I need your help. Don’t bother bringing your skis.” The assignment was to go to Prague, Czechoslavakia, and provide help in a refugee camp. There Mr. Winton learned of the plight of the refugees. He also decided to help as many of the children as he could. Mr. Winton said that at the refugee camp “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.” Mr. Winton worked to save the children in the camp, arranging for their transport to Great Britain, where they would be placed in safe homes. He managed to save 669 children, mainly Jewish. To do so, he had to meet certain requirements. He said, “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.” Little help was available. He pointed out, “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.” Mr. Winton left behind Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti to look after things in Prague while he returned to England to find money and homes for the refugee children. He placed photographs of the children in newspapers, knowing that many people who saw the photographs would want to help the children. Between March 14, 1939, and August 2, 1939, children left Prague for Great Britain. Tragically in September 1939, 250 children were supposed to go to Great Britain, but Adolf Hitler invaded Poland and Great Britain declared war on Germany. No longer could trains travel to Great Britain through German-controlled territory. Mr. Winton said that “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.” On September 4, 2009, 70 years after Mr. Winton’s rescue efforts, 22 of the children he helped save, now in their 70s and 80s, and members of their families visited him in London. Mr. Winton was then Sir Nicholas: On December 31, 2002, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Mr. Winton a knighthood for his services to humanity.At age 100, Sir Nicholas met the 22 survivors at the train station and shook hands with them. He said, “The trouble 70 years ago was getting them together with the people who were going to look after them. I’ve got no responsibility this time.” He wears a ring—a gift from one of the children he saved—on which is inscribed, “Save one life, save the world.” The 669 children he saved now have over 7,000 descendants.
Shoah, a 1985 movie, is an over-nine-hour-long witness to the Holocaust. Among the people appearing in the movie are Nazis, survivors, and bystanders. One person interviewed is the survivor Filip Muller, a Jew who watched other Jews walk into a gas chamber to die. He watched and listened as a group of Czech Jews sang two songs as they walked into the gas chamber. One song — “The Hatikvah” — affirmed that they were Jewish. The other song — the Czech national anthem — affirmed that they were Czech. Mr. Muller says, “They denied Hitler, who would have them be one but not the other.” Mr. Muller felt that he had no reason to go on living, so he went inside the gas chamber with them. However, a small group of women came over to him, and one woman said, “So you want to die. But that’s senseless. Your death won’t give us back our lives. That’s no way. You must get out of here alive, you must bear witness to our suffering and to the injustice done to us.” In his review of this movie — a Great Movie — Roger Ebert writes, “And that is the final message of this extraordinary film. It is not a documentary, not journalism, not propaganda, not political. It is an act of witness. In it, [filmmaker] Claude Lanzmann celebrates the priceless gift that sets man apart from animals and makes us human, and gives us hope: the ability for one generation to tell the next what it has learned.”
Following the end of World War II, Walter Ziffer searched for his mother, sisters, and cousin, and amazingly he discovered that they had also survived being imprisoned in a camp during the Holocaust. He made his way to their camp and waited for them. When they returned from an expedition to find food, he recognized them although they were much thinner and had suffered much. But they did not recognize him—he was much thinner and had suffered much and they thought that he had already died. He said, “Mama, don’t you recognize me?” Then his mother knew him and shouted, “I thought you were dead!” And Walter had the family reunion scene he had dreamed of.
“It is deeply shocking and incomprehensible to me that despite volumes of documentation and living witnesses who can attest to the horrors of the Holocaust, there are still those who would deny it.” — Mark Udall, U.S. Senator, Colorado, Democrat
“The Holocaust was the most evil crime ever committed.” — Stephen Ambrose
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved