Hundreds honor rescuer of Czech children
Nicholas Winton with one of the children he rescued.
From Nicky’s Family
A FREE SCREENING of Nicky’s Family will be presented by the Henry Ricklis Holocaust Committee and Monroe Township Library at Monroe Township Middle School on Sunday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m.
September 9, 2013
A capacity crowd of more than 300 packed a Monroe Township ballroom to honor a daring Englishman who engineered the rescue of nearly 700 Jewish children from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
Organized by Hadassah, the Aug. 25 event at the Greenbriar at Whittingham featured a film about the rescuer, Nicholas Winton, and a talk by a Czech Holocaust survivor who translated a biography of Winton into English.
The film, Nicky’s Family, interweaves documentary footage with dramatized scenes to tell the story of Winton, who was the driving force behind eight Kindertransports. Winton was instrumental in recruiting the English families who adopted youngsters sent from occupied Czechoslovakia to the relative safety of Great Britain.
The film also traces some of the 5,700 people — survivors and their offspring — who would not be alive if Winton had not acted on their behalf.
Introducing the film was Peter A. Rafaeli, a native of what is now Slovakia and honorary consul general of the Czech Republic. Rafaeli said he first became aware of Winton in 2000 when he met Matej Minac, a director of three films about Winton and later the author of Nicholas Winton’s Lottery of Life. Rafaeli, himself a Holocaust survivor, translated it into English.
Rafaeli said that Winton’s efforts remained a secret for half a century. It was not until the late 1980s, when his wife discovered an old scrapbook, that the Englishman’s humanitarian exploits were revealed to the public, including those he rescued. Winton, now 104, subsequently earned accolades from President George W. Bush and Congress, and, in April of this year, a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth of England.
There is also a campaign, begun in 2008, to nominate the former stockbroker for a Nobel Prize. Attendees at the Aug. 25 screening signed petitions urging the Nobel Committee to consider his candidacy.
“The film was deeply moving,” said Marsha Finkelstein of Briarcliff Manor, NY, whose mother, Gert Applebaum of Monroe Township, was a member of the Hadassah committee organizing the Greenbriar event.
“What is especially important is to see the story of the Holocaust being passed along to another generation. This is a message that must not be forgotten,” said Finkelstein.
Gail Shinberg, a resident of Greenbriar at Whittingham, and a Hadassah committee member, marveled at the fearlessness of Winton, who was just 29 at the time.
Nevertheless, Rafaeli said, Winton has never considered himself a hero — just someone who saw people in need and decided to do something about it.
From Hamburg to Hopewell: a journey to freedom
Among the people watching Nicky’s Family on Aug. 25, at least one had a deep personal relationship to the film’s subject matter.
Ron Gordon, 51, of Hopewell is the son of a man who had been rescued in a Kindertransport operation similar to Winton’s.
“My father Alexander, who died in 2011, lived in Hamburg before the war. He was 16 on Kristallnacht,” Gordon told NJJN. “He hid out in the fields, waited for the violence to abate, and then went home seeking his mother. But she was already gone. A neighbor told him about a special train taking Jewish children away to safety. So he raced to the station and was accepted.”
Gordon said that his father was in England briefly, but then was sent to Australia. When war was declared, he was given the option of remaining in Australia or returning to England, where he would be required to serve in the armed forces.
The elder Gordon chose to go back and served until 1945 as an interpreter assigned to question German prisoners. After the war, he came to the United States and started a family. The younger Gordon said he grew up in Jersey City and West Orange.
“My father actually had a role in another movie, Into the Arms of Strangers,” Gordon said.
That film, narrated by Judi Dench, won an Oscar as the best feature-length documentary of 2001.
— ALAN RICHMAN