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.