"There is nothing that can't be done if it's fundamentally reasonable ..." (Nicholas Winton)
This documentary film tells the story of one of the greatest humantarians of our time. Nicholas Winton, together with his team (his mother, a secretary, and other concerned individuals) managed to save 669 endangered children, most of them Jewish, from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis and Nazi collaborators. Convinced that war was imminent, Winton organized eight rescue missions in 1939 that took children from Prague, the capital of the former Czechoslovakia and the city soon to be occupied by the Nazis, to Great Britain. There they were placed with families, stayed in hostels, were placed on farms, or were even placed in boarding schools (very few went to boarding schools). The final train, carrying 250 children, was scheduled to leave on September 1, 1939, but never did. Hitler's troops invaded Poland that same day and the borders were closed. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. None of the children who were to have been on that final train were ever seen again.
For almost 50 years, Winton told no one about his rescue efforts. In late 1987, Winton's wife, Grete, discovered papers in their attic related to his prewar activities. It was only then that the remarkable story emerged about the rescue operation that saved 669 lives. The Wintons shared their story with Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust scholar and the wife of the British newspaper magnate, the late Robert Maxwell. In February 1988, Dr. Maxwell had Winton's story published in the Sunday Mirror, which was featured that same night on the BBC program, That's Life. As a result, Winton was reunited with many of the "children" he saved.
Vera Gissing, a rescued child, has written her memoirs in Pearls of Childhood (Robson Books Ltd., 1988). She tells the story of her rescue and growing up in Britain, her adopted land. Gissing researched extensively and later collaborated with Winton and author Muriel Emanuel on the book Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation (Vallentine Mitchell, 2002). Both books are excellent sources of information.
Upon reading Vera Gissing's memoirs in 1997, Czech filmmaker Matej Mináč shot a feature film, All My Loved Ones, in which Winton appeared at the end. This small exposure of Winton was so effective that it encouraged Mináč to make a documentary film of Winton's life Nicholas Winton — The Power of Good, which won the International Emmy Award in 2002. Mináč and executive producer Martina Štolbová visited many film archives and museums throughout the world and, with the help of Gissing, uncovered new and unique material on the rescue.
This guide includes several types of information about the documentary. In addition to a summary of the story there is a timeline to link Hitler's rise to power with Winton's rescue activities. A study guide for use after watching the film (appropriate for middle school and high school students) is included, as is the series of questions related to the film and the larger issues it raises.
The study guide also includes many primary source documents. First, there are letters written by Nicholas Winton and government officials that express the sense of urgency Winton had faced, along with the bureaucracy and lack of interest that existed within the United States' government for such an effort. With regard to the British government, the House office was a bit slow, but eventually allowed the children in. They took in 10,000 German children as well as those whom Winton saved, and ended up being a great help to Winton. Secondly, there are pages from Winton's scrapbook, which include photos of the rescued children and some of the letters Winton received from grateful parents. These documents are easily interpreted and will give students an indication of the challenge Winton faced. Finally, there are several new additions that look at Nicholas Winton's actions in retrospect.
Most of the 15,000 Jewish children who remained in Czechoslovakia after 1939 perished during the war. From the 669 children that Winton and his team saved, there are more than 5,000 descendents living around the world today.
Winton's story is a great inspiration for all generations. It shows that whenever there is a will, there is a way to help. As Joe Schlesinger, narrator of Nicholas Winton — The Power of Good, mentions, one of the most intriguing questions of the whole story is: what inspired Winton to act as he did? What is outstanding about Winton is that he had the foresight, the drive, compassion and organizing ability; and he could never resist a challenge! There are many others who did risk their lives. As he insists, Winton was not one of them! Why did he take on the enormous, life-saving task of organizing the exodus of children in danger, while most people stood by and did nothing? Instead, Winton could have offered to help in some small way, and then just have left. This "mystery" might be answered by an excerpt from one of his letters, dated May 1939:
"But there is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one's time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out, finding and helping those in suffering and danger, and not merely in leading an exemplary life, in a purely passive way of doing no wrong."