I have to admit that, until my college friend Peter Smith’s Facebook post earlier in the day, I’d never heard of Sir Nicholas Winton.
Sir Nicholas is nearly 104 years old. There’s a race against time to have him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize while he is still living, and thus eligible.
For decades, almost no one knew what Nicholas Winton had done; he never boasted about it, never called attention to it, never sought glory for it. His wife – his own wife – didn’t know, until the day when she was rummaging through the attic and found a suitcase containing old documents, including a list of Czechoslovakian children.
More than 600 children.
Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker visiting Prague in 1938, saw refugee camps. The British government had tried to placate Hitler by giving him the Sudetenland, a German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia. These were refugees from the Sudetenland. Winton witnessed the way the rising Nazi regime had treated Jews, and knew what was in store for Czechoslovakia. He spearheaded an effort to send the children, mostly Jewish, from the refugee camps to homes outside the country, so that when Hitler decided to take over the rest of Czechoslovakia – as Winton realized he would – those children, at least, would be safe from danger.
In 1988, in what was apparently one of the most memorable moments of British television, Nicholas Winton’s efforts were recounted by the presenter of a TV show, as Winton sat in the studio audience. The presenter mentioned the name of one of the children who had been rescued, now an adult, and informed Winton that the woman was sitting right next to him in the audience. Winton was startled at the realization, and was seen wiping tears from his eyes upon meeting one of the children he had saved so many years after the fact. Watch it for yourself – and then see the real jaw-dropper that happened a little bit later:
If that doesn’t make you have to wipe your eyes, I’m not sure we can be friends.
I’m not sure about how this was all handled in the show – in the earlier shot, where he meets the one woman sitting beside him, there’s a young man in a green sweater sitting behind him. But then, for the later reveal, all of the people sitting around him are different, and all of the proper age to have been children in the 1930s. I’m not sure whether this second reveal was from a different broadcast, or just later in the same broadcast and they had moved people around in order to surprise him, or what happened. I don’t suppose it matters.
My friend Peter was interested in the campaign in part because he got to meet and interview Sir Nicholas Winton. I’m assuming this was while Peter and his wife Holly were living in Prague – not Winton’s homeland, but the homeland of the hundreds of people he saved.
Anyway, if you’re interested in getting this man a Nobel Peace Prize (and he’s got to be living when the committee makes its selection, so this year may be the last chance), sign this petition.