A birthday to remember

May 21st Sir Nicholas Winton celebrated his 105th birthday. Rewarding as it might be to reach such a ripe old age (and in great shape!) there is something far more rewarding for a man who is about to start his 106th year of life.

75 years ago he was part of the group of people involved in the  Kindertransport initiatives taking place in a tumultuous pre-WWII Europe. First came the terrible segregation process that started in 1933, when Hitler first called for a national boycott of Jewish businesses. Then, by the late 1930s many families in Germany and other countries in central Europe such as the former Czechoslovakia  or Poland started to fear for their futures as the Nazi German government began sending Jews and people of other ethnic and social minorities to concentration camps. Parents worried about their children – especially those who were not able to flee Nazi ruled areas with their  families- and looked for alternatives to save their children from almost certain death as more and more citizens of all ages origins and walks of life were being sent to different concentration camps in central Europe.

kindertransport-amanpour

Thanks to a joint petition by a delegation of British Jewish, Quaker and other groups working on behalf of the refugees, the English parliament agreed to allow children under 17 from the countries affected by the Nazi regime to be hosted by families and institutions for the duration of the violence – and also during the war that would soon follow. As you can probably imagine, the last memory many of these children would ever have of their parents and relatives was that of a sad farewell in a train station in Berlin, Prague, Vienna or Bremen. Most of them would start a new life far away from their country of origin and their families. Often they were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

Nicholas, the son of German Jewish immigrants, worked in banking in Germany and France, and eventually as a stockbroker at the London Stock Exchange. In the winter of 1938 Nicholas changed a posh ski holiday in Switzerland for a trip to Prague to help a friend who was helping Jewish refugees there. Soon he would establish an office at a table of the dining room in his hotel in central Prague and set off to find homes for no less than 669 Czechoslovakian children that had been separated from their parents. Thanks to his work, and that of other humanitarians in different European countries, some 10,000 children were saved.

Nicholas is the last living member of the group who organized the rescue of so many children. He still actively participates in events and receives the media to remember and celebrate the lives of those involved in this cause- and those who could go on to live their own lives thanks to the courage and generosity shown by the organizers and the foster families. His mission is not just to prevent horror from happening again, but also to give us a lesson for our everyday life: “Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to do some good”.

To learn more about the Kindertransport watch this documentary

And watch here for a really touching homage to Sir Winton on the BBC show “That’s Life” (1988)

Vocabulary

  • Ripe old age  (adj): when referred to food 2ripe” means mature enough to be eaten or used. When it is used to describe a person, “ripe old age” it means mature in knowledge or very old but healthy.
  • Flee (verb): to run away from a place or danger
  • Walk of life (noun phrase/collocation):a chosen profession or sphere of activity
  • On behalf of (prepositional phrase): in the name of, in benefit of someone else
  • Joint (adj): shared or combined
  • Farewell (adj): goodbye, the act of departing or leaving a place
  • Prominent (adj): eminent, widely known
  • Everyday vs. ‘every day’: Everyday is an adjective that refers to daily, regular or normal things related to mundane, day-to-day life. ‘Every day’ is a noun phrase that we use as  a complement to refer to something that happens all days. It has the value of an adverb focused on the timing of the activity rather than the nature of the activity.
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