The bravery of the ‘British Schindler’ can still inspire us

June 30, 2017

We have all wondered at times how we would react if we found ourselves in great danger, or confronting a huge injustice. Would we rise to the occasion and “do the right thing”?

Thankfully, most of us are likely never to face such a test, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find inspiration from those who have, such as the British stockbroker Sir Nicholas Winton at the start of the Second World War.

Sir Nicholas, who was 29 in 1938, was on his way to Switzerland for a skiing holiday when he decided to visit Prague instead and help a friend who was working with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, which was already under Nazi occupation.

During his stay, Sir Nicholas was so alarmed by Nazi behaviour towards Jews that he set up an organisation to aid children from Jewish families, which he ran from his hotel room in Wenceslas Square.

When the British government set up the Kindertransport scheme in November 1938, Sir Nicholas arranged for Czech children to travel by train to the UK and helped to find families to shelter them on arrival. Thanks to his work, 669 children were saved from certain death in Nazi concentration camps.

What makes his story even more remarkable is that Sir Nicholas never spoke of his involvement with the Kindertransport until 50 years later, when his wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home that contained the names, pictures and documents of the children he saved.

As word got out, Sir Nicholas was dubbed the “British Schindler”. To cap off this remarkable story, in 1988 – 50 years after his mercy mission – Sir Nicholas was invited to join the audience of a UK television programme called That’s Life!

While the presenter retold the story, she revealed one female audience member seated right next to Sir Nicolas Winton was in fact one of the children he saved. When she reached out to hold his hand, he was moved to tears.

Furthermore, the presenter asked “if any of the audience owed their lives to Sir Nicolas, please stand up”. Unbeknownst to him, as the camera focused on his astonished face, all of the audience seated around him stood up to pay their respects to him. They were those Czech children whose lives he had saved! His quiet humility, as he understood the purpose of their presence, was intensely touching.

It was a life-affirming occasion that paid tribute to one man’s bravery and compassion – virtues we all hope we possess.

Sir Nicholas said: “Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to try and do some good.”

What an inspirational thought. It is our intentions that shape reality and change the world we live in.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation