He died without fanfare. Closing his eyes for the last time, he went peacefully in his sleep at Wexham Hospital. The prime minister of Great Britain described him as a “great man”, but I confess I’d never heard of him.
He was born Nicholas Wertheimer in 1909 to Jewish parents. By 1938 he was a young stockbroker in London with a promising career ahead of him; that is, until he learned the plight of Jewish children under Hitler. Canceling a Swiss skiing vacation because of the plea from a friend, Nicholas traveled to Prague to visit this friend who was aiding refugees that were fleeing from Nazi Germany. He witnessed Jewish children and their families living in awful conditions. Unable to avoid a sense of urgency and responsibility, Nicholas arranged for trains to carry Jewish children out of occupied Prague to Britain, battling bureaucracy at both ends, saving them from almost certain death, and then kept quiet about his exploits for a half-century. He organized a total of eight trains from Prague, while organizing foster families for the Jewish children in Britain, placing advertisements in newspapers and working tirelessly to find British families willing to care for the boys and girls in their homes. A total of 669 children travelled to safety on eight trains across four countries. He died on the anniversary of the departure of a train in 1939 carrying the largest number of children – 241; however, his actions would have escaped public notice had it not been for his wife. Cleaning their attic one day in 1988, his wife found a dusty scrapbook that had the record of names, pictures, and documents detailing the children’s unique stories. After explaining the book and recalling the memories, his wife was dumbfounded. Sir Nicholas Winton was knighted by the Queen in March 2003.
Within each of us is the seed of greatness juxtaposed near a whole host of character traits labeled ‘complacency.’ If I’m not careful, I speak just loudly enough to hear myself; self-absorption prevents me from recognizing the desperate pleas of the hurting all around me. Conviction shapes opinions, but only love puts belief into action.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.’ Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?”And he said, “He that shewed mercy on him.” Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 KJV)