As a dark veil began to sweep over Europe in 1939 — the pale hint of what would come from Nazi rule — a stockbroker from England took a course of action that would save the lives of nearly 700 children.
Decades later, those survivors and their children and grandchildren are not through paying him back for his good deed.
Nicky Winton was a 29-year-old businessman from London who traveled to Prague in late 1938 to help a friend aiding Jewish refugees. Winton turned the trip into a crusade to take children away from the closing grip of the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. In all, Winton saw 669 children to safety in Britain and other countries.
The story of his life — and the good work it’s spurred around the globe — is told in the film “Nicky’s Family.” On Jan. 12, the East Valley Jewish Community Center, The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival and Chandler’s Diversity Office are putting together a screening of the movie at the Chandler Center for the Arts. The event is a fundraiser for the Center for Holocaust Education & Human Dignity, which will be built adjacent to the East Valley Jewish Community Center near Ray and Alma School roads. This is the third time a film has been used to share meaningful stories and raise funds for the new museum.
The event, dubbed “The Power of One,” is also a chance for people to take what they see in Winton’s story and become a part of it. Dozens of organizations will be in the lobby offering volunteer opportunities before and after the film.
It mirrors what’s happened in the years since Winton’s story was first unveiled. Winton spent years after World War II silent about what he had done. He never even told his wife, Grete.
But in 1988, while in the attic, she discovered a trunk filled with the documents and photos Winton used to track the children he saved. It was only then that the children — now adults — learned who had masterminded their escape.
The film includes pieces of a television program made when Winton was honored for his efforts. Two dozen of the children he saved — now grown — were in the audience to thank him face-to-face. The movie shares the humanitarian efforts of the survivors and their families and friends. It includes images of children being fed in Cambodia and Africa because of those inspired by what Winton did.
Steve Tepper, CEO and executive director of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, said the museum that will benefit from the event will be a place of education and understanding. At the museum, the focus is on the Holocaust, but there will be other examples of “man’s inhumanity to man … with an eye toward how we can prevent these from happening.”
“There is no Olympics of suffering. There were no gold medals for, ‘My people had it worse than your people,’” he said. “Other incidents that don’t rise to genocide, but things we should societally be working on — women’s suffrage, African-American slavery, women’s rights … There are lots of ways our society can be better.”
Winton’s story shows the good in man, Tepper said.
“Nicholas Winton was a non-Jewish man who chose to spend his winter vacation trying to help Jewish people he had never helped in his life. He knew there was a need,” Tepper said. “He selflessly went over but he ended up saving 600-plus children. The Nazis took the last transport of 200 kids. Almost all those children perished, just to show you how tragic this was.”
The event will include recognition of local heroes, including public safety officers and firemen. Then there’s the volunteer piece afterward, said Leah Powell, community resources and diversity manger for Chandler.
“It will have that call to action. They’ll be able to walk out the doors and find numerous volunteer opportunities,” Powell said. “It may be more a community builder than a fundraiser.”
Tepper said there’s much to gain from the event.
“We can make the community, the greater Phoenix area, a better place to be if we all give a little of ourselves, a little of our time,” he said. “We can give something that is beyond one single person’s capacity.”
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