Apr 2002 Journal

previous article:Identifying and recovering works of art
next article:‘Playing the game’ (profile)

Rescuer sans-pareil

Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation
Muriel Emanuel And Vera Gissing
Vallentine Mitchell

To play a pivotal role in rescuing 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and allow the feat to remain ignored for nearly 50 years demands a rare blend of courage, compassion and modesty. But these characteristics exemplify Nicholas Winton. So little did the 29-year-old London stockbroker think of the enterprise he took on during an unexpected visit to Prague in December 1938 that he consigned all records to a scrapbook, retrieved from his attic only in 1988. Even his wife of 40 years was unaware of her husband's memorable accomplishment.

Equally unexpected for many 'Winton children' was the discovery that their benefactor, the seemingly pukka Englishman, would be ineligible for the award of ‘Righteous Gentile' because he was of Jewish parentage. Indeed, the many twists in the Winton story contribute to its fascination.

In two sections, this book gives a picture of Winton's life, including his colourful war career in the RAF and his post-war task of organising the sale of Nazi booty. Winton is seen as a devoted husband and caring father to three children, one of whom was mentally handicapped. In retirement, he has pursued many worthy causes and only latterly enjoyed the limelight that followed the acknowledgement of his rescue venture.

The rescue mission itself and his life after it came to light are recorded in the second section of the book, as are the stories of some of the ‘Winton children’, a number of whom, including co-author Vera Gissing, have published autobiographies. These chapters also bring to life several members of the dedicated team of helpers who played essential roles in the mission, including the indefatigable Doreen Warriner, her assistant Bill Barazetti and the dashing Trevor Chadwick, who succeeded in inveigling the Kriminalrat in Prague into approving the transports.

An intriguing subtext is the theme of multiple or confused identity. Not only was Winton, formerly Wertheim, baptised and confirmed; some of the rescued ‘children' were eager to forget the past and merge into the gentile English landscape. The book itself, a composite with some unevenness in style and tone, reflects this confused identity.
Emma Klein

previous article:Identifying and recovering works of art
next article:‘Playing the game’ (profile)