Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Good Samaritans

"The persecution of Jews in the General Government in Polish territory gradually worsened in its cruelty. In 1939 and1940 they were forced to wear the Star of David and were herded together and confined in ghettos. In 1941 and1942 this unadulterated sadism was fully revealed. And then a thinking man, who had overcome his inner cowardice, simply had to help. There was no other choice."
- Oskar Schindler, in a 1964 interview.

"There is a difference between Passive Goodness and Active Goodness, which is 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 in danger and not merely leading an exemplary life in the purely passive way of doing no wrong."
- Nicholas Winton, in a letter written in 1939

"There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives.... The spirit of humanity, philanthropy... neighborly friendship... with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage."
- Chiune Sugihara

Academy Award winning Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg took the world by storm two decades ago. In Europe, a decade later, a British centenarian, Nickolas Winton (born 1909), was recognized and people petitioned for him to receive the Nobel Prize for peace, as he transported 669 Jewish children from Prague to London, all of whom were adopted in England. The 2011 documentary Nicky's Family by Matej Minac won a few world film festival awards. Queen Elizabeth knighted Nicholas and CBS in United States featured him on 60 Minutes.

My American friend who read my blog reminded me of Nicholas Winton, so I referred it to my Czech friend Valerie. Valerie responded with a more detailed story about one of the Kindertransport children.

"Kindertransport Operations": several countries rescued Jewish children away from the Nazis in 1939. Poland, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic are erecting memorial statues in memory of these successful operations.

Nicholas Winton, Jewish, born in Germany, became a British stockbroker. He was asked by his diplomat friend "how about lending a hand to the desperate Jewish families?" Canceling his ski trip to Switzerland, Nicholas flew to Prague and set up a recruiting space, first at the open Winceslas Square, then moved inside the Hotel Evropa where he stayed.

In 2005 I had a chance to visit Winceslas Square for half a day, admiring its historic significance and squinting saint statues. I visited art nouveau style hotels; including Hotel Evrope, whose façade was designed by Jan Letzel, the same architect who did the UNESCO Heritage Hiroshima dome. I'm happy to see this hotel has a connection between Jan Letzel and Nicholas Winton.

Of all the Kindertransport art sculptures, two at the Prague Railway Central Station (the statue is on the Prague main train station on the platform from where the Winton´s trains with children left for Great Britain) and London's Liverpool Street Station outshine all others, giving thanks to the courageous act of Nicholas Winton. What impressed me was that the records of Nicholas Winton were boxed and forgotten in the attic, unbeknownst to Grete, his wife. In 1988, Grete found a scrapbook from 1939 with a complete list of names and a few letters from parents of the children addressed to Nicholas. That was how Grete found out what kind of man her husband truly was.

My Czech friend Valerie lives in Pardubice, about 100 km east of Prague. She emailed to me that this past March, she attended "an evening with Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines" event at Pardubice University. (I was a lucky traveler to have once stayed at this Pardubice University dorm). Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines was one of the 669 Winton children. Valerie sent me slides of photos of this event and I'm happy to share them with my readers.

Lady Milena, upon arriving at Liverpool Street Station, London, met her guardian "the Radcliffes" who looked after her for a year when she was joined by her parents. She spoke Czech and English and at age 16, she left for France as an au pair for two years. Her father found work in Preston, Lancashire where her family re-united. At age 25 Milena met her late husband Sir George Grenfell-Baines, a well-known architect. Milena, published Czech recipe books using the Remoska, a Czech made electric cooking pot. She was on air with her cooking lessons, while organizing England-Czech sports and music exchange, as well as charity programs as sponsor/interpreter. Lately, she has been addressing European audiences regarding her Kindertransport experience.

Milena has maintained a close relationship with Sir Nicholas Winton. In 2001 Milena was presented with the Jan Masaryk ‘Gratis Agit’ award, by the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs for remaining a faithful patriot, an ambassador of goodwill, culture and history for the Czech Republic.

Additional Resources:
1. Complete photos from "Setkání s Lady Milenou Grenfell-Baines"
2. Documentary The Power of Good
3. http://www.powerofgood.net/

1 comment:

eraigames said...

What a great post this is! I had not known about the kindertransport efforts. I imagine it must have been a shock for the wife to find out her husband had been hiding such a huge (albeit positive) secret for so long!