Nicholas Wertheim, born in 1909, was one of those men. Born in London to German Jewish parents, he grew to become a banker of no little success. But that success was inconsequential when his life a whole is considered.
Nick worked the banking business across Europe in the 1930s. From Hamburg to Berlin to Paris to London, he learned the money trade. It would appear that his success in these endeavors facilitated his success in what became his legacy.
Shortly before Christmas in 1938, Nick was planning a skiing vacation, in Switzerland, when a friend asked him if he could help him in Prague with some Jewish welfare projects he was working on. Nick, being the guy he was, agreed to help. The three weeks he was allowed for vacation would turn out to change the lives of alot of people.
1938 saw alot of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis in Germany and Austria. This became more frantic during what is known as Kristallnacht, translated to ‘Crystal Night’ or ‘Night of Broken Glass. This was a night where Jewish homes and businesses in Germany and Austria were vandalized and the people arrested. This night is generally considered the beginning of Nazi Germany’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
Nick found that there was a policy made by the British government which allowed for the immigration of child refugees from the continent to Britain, provided they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for their eventual return to their own country.
He set up his office at a dining room table in a hotel in Wenceslas Square. Nick’s banking experience, his personal finances and his connections to others with the same enabled him to arrange homes in Britain for 669 children, many of whom’s parent would later die at Auschwitz. He gave up his vacation to do this folks. He spent three weeks in Prague but continued to make arrangements from his desk at the London Stock Exchange to ensure the safety of these children.
He worked from October of 1938 to September 1939 when the final train of 250 children almost made it but Hitler invaded Poland and WWII had begun.
He didn’t speak of any of this for many many years. In 1988, his wife, Greta found a detailed scrapbook in their attic. She sent letters to the addresses of all the children in the scrapbook and found 80 of these children in Britain.
Nick was invited onto a television show where they were going to tell his story. During the show, Nick was informed that the woman sitting beside him was one of those children. She, then, asked if anyone else present owed their lives to this man and more than two dozen people stood and applauded him.
Click here for the BBC special on Sir Nick.
More than 6000 people, living today, owe their lives to Sir Nickolas Winton. His parents changed their surname when he was very young trying to assimilate into British society. Nick never wanted to stand out, but what he has done has changed the face of the world for a great many people. If you consider the butterfly effect in chaos theory, how many lives have those 6000 effected? There is no way of knowing what the true effects of Nick’s actions had on the world as a whole. He was knighted in 2003, and the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, Grade I was bestowed upon him in 2008 among other awards.
If it’s not impossible, then it can be done.”
– Sir Nickolas Winton
Nick’s daughter, Barbara has written a book to honor her father. The book underwent a reprinting with a large publisher a couple of months ago. It should be a great read.
Click here for a very nice write-up the Guardian did on his 105th birthday. And click the image below to buy the book online.
Sir Nicholas is one man that personifies honor. True honor is not something you see very often nowadays. Nick is 105 years old but he says it is just time he is fighting now. It is great to know people like this are still around.
God made him out of the same stuff of which all of us are made. Nick’s choiceshave made him great. What have our choices made us?