Leo Baeck 2


Oct 2002 Journal

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Continental Britons

Kinder applaud rescue hero Nicholas Winton at Imperial War Museum gathering

Saviour of hundreds of endangered Jewish children in Czechoslovakia in 1939, Nicholas Winton, a sprightly and sharp-witted 93-year-old, was guest of honour at a gathering of 200 Kindertransport members of the AJR hosted by the Imperial War Museum. The reception was part of the Continental Britons exhibition events programme illustrating the experiences of Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe who settled in Britain.

Robert Crawford, the Director General of the Imperial War Museum, extended a warm welcome to the audience and spoke of the Continental Britons exhibition, which is sponsored by the AJR at the Jewish Museum until 20 October, as a rich collection of documents, artefacts and video testimony and as "a real triumph".

Emotional reunion

The highlight of the evening was the screening of The Power of Good, a documentary made by Czech film-maker Matej Minac. It relates how London stockbroker Nicholas Winton rescued young children from Czechoslovakia and brought them to England, his self-imposed mission halted only by the outbreak of war. It is narrated on screen with deep feeling by Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger, who was one of the Kinder whose life he saved. The film, and its leading character, received a standing ovation.

Winton, who became a World War II fighter pilot, told no one of his pre-war exploits and only the chance discovery of an old scrapbook in the attic by his late wife, with photographs of the children and unused immigration documents and labels, revealed this remarkable story. In a 1988 edition of her television programme That's Life, Esther Rantzen brought together children - then adults - whom Winton had rescued with their saviour for the very first time, in a highly emotional reunion. That reunion was again mirrored at this meeting by the participation of Esther Rantzen, who is planning a follow-up film about the Kinder, and many Czech Kindertransportees. Among them was Vera Gissing, whose recent book, Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation, co-authored with Muriel Emanuel, has created a wider public awareness of the heroism and modesty of Winton and of his small band of co-workers in the desperately short number of days when he foresaw the probable fate of those unable to escape.

List of children

Taking part in a question-and-answer panel with Nicholas Winton were Prague-born Vera Gissing, a children's author and translator, Muriel Emanuel, a writer, Carol Seigel of the Jewish Museum, and Bertha Leverton, Founder Life President of the Reunion of Kindertransport (now part of the AJR). Suzanne Bardgett, Director of the Holocaust Exhibition, who organised the event with Carol Seigel, chaired the discussion. Although Nicholas Winton could not fully explain why he had never discussed his exploits to save the Czech Kinder, he did recall having to bring five separate relief organisations together to create just one list of children for evacuation, 92 per cent of whom were Jewish, a fact which Bertha Leverton observed was missing from the film's commentary. According to Vera Gissing, only 2 per cent of those remaining survived, yet the film estimates that the fewer than 700 surviving children have already produced some 5,000 progeny!

Having visited the IWM's Holocaust Exhibition for the first time, Esther Rantzen praised its "skilled and dedicated presentation". In seeking to lay the groundwork for her proposed film on the later lives of the Czech Kinder, Esther met Flor Kent, sculptor of the Kindertransport statue to be unveiled at Liverpool Street Station early next year, and AJR Management Committee member Eric Reich, who has raised funds for the statue and Esther's special charity Childline. Esther also invited contact details from the several Czech Kinder in the audience. KT-AJR Chairman David Jedwab presented Esther with a video and book of the last Kindertransport Reunion in 1999 as a sound basis for her research.

Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation is published by Vallentine Mitchell at £9.95 paperback and £16.50 hardback.
Ronald Channing

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