Farewell to Sir Nicholas Winton

***Sir Nicholas Winton, the young British stockbroker, who in 1938 changed forever the course of his life as well as the course of the lives of 669 children, passed away peacefully yesterday at Wexham Hospital, Slough.

He was 106 years old.

Sir Winton has been the featured topic of several of my posts after I was privileged having caught Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes interview with Sir Winton which aired last April.
(sadly we have since lost Bob Simon in a tragic car accident earlier this year)
I thought it a fitting tribute that I should repost my original posting about this wonderful unassuming hero and most humble human being. . .the world was all the better for Nicholas Winton

(see yesterday’s BBC story about his death– http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-33350880 )

When does 669 equal 15,000?

“The soul is healed by being with children.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Nicholas Winton

young_nicholas_winton_with_rescued_child
(Nicholas Winton in 1938 with a young Jewish boy in Prague)

The year is 1938.
You’re 28 years old, a young British stock broker—successful and living the good life.
You’ve been keeping up with the current events throughout Europe, with a particularly keen interest in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler is on the march.
The Czechs, particularly the Jews, are trying to get out while they still can.
The war drums are beginning to echo from across the English Channel.
You’ve got two weeks vacation saved up.
Seems like a perfect time for a trip to Prague. . .

Fast forward to Sunday evening, April 27, 2014—time for 60 Minutes.
Correspondent Bob Simon hosts the story “Saving The Children”
He introduces us to 104 year old Nicholas Winton.

winton_prazsky_hrad
(Sir Nicholas Winton today)

I was just in the process of finishing up the dishes when the story started. Intrigued with the story’s intro, I immediately stopped what I was doing in order to give the story my full attention.

By the time the 60 Minute story ends, tears are streaming down my cheeks.
A tale of heroic action by one who simply thought he had to make a difference.
He had no corporate financial backing.
He had no Governmental backing.
He was not a member of the military.
He was merely a young man with a big heart.
A young man who simply knew that there were people, in particular families with young children, who were now in trouble. Never mind that these people were on the continent proper, hundreds of miles from his own home.
He had no clue as to what he would find.
He had no idea as to how to he could “fix” the current “bleeding”
He simply knew in his heart that he had to go and he had to try to help.
Hitler and his dreaded Nazis were coming, as was now Nicholas Winton.
The two were on a collision course with destiny.
One to save lives, the other to take lives.

I’m providing a link for anyone who would like to view the original story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-during-world-war-11-60-minutes/

Mr. Winton, who is actually Sir Winton, is a most unassuming 104 year old British gentleman. He has a gentle, soft spoken demeanor, with an ever so sly smile. For nearly 50 years, Sir Winton never actually spoke of the life changing events which took place during a trip to Prague in 1938. Had his wife not found an old faded yellow and long forgotten scrape book in their attic, filled with the grainy black and white photographs of hundreds of young children, the world may never have known of the difference one young Englishman had made so very long ago.

When asked by Bob Simon as to why he never told any one of his most heroic feat which spanned 1938-1939, Sir Winton replied that it wasn’t that he kept it secret, he just didn’t find it important to go on about it.
That was then.
This is now.
And he currently has other irons in the fire.

At 104 Sir Winton is currently involved in working with the elderly mentally handicapped of London as well as for building homes for senior citizens. Interesting that a man of 104 feels a deep need to take care of those who are a bit younger than himself when it seems as if he would be the one in need of care.

I will briefly delve into only the general specifics of Sir Winton’s heroic act of 1938, as you may certainly visit the 60 Minute link or peruse the Web for a more in-depth story of this remarkable man— I will however whet your appetite with a few of the highlights.

As the Nazis rolled into then Czechoslovakia, wanting to literally take the Sudetenland, which they felt was rightfully their own, just as they had rolled into Austria and soon Poland and Hungary, the citizens of Czechoslovakia began to panic, especially the Jews. Nicholas Winton was reading about these disturbing unfolding events in the daily news with keen interest. He decided to use his time saved for holiday for a trip to Prague to see what, if anything, he could do to help.

The short end of story is that Sir Winton decided to get out as many children as possible from the impending falling death ridden curtain which was quickly descending not only over Czechoslovakia but over most of Europe. He had no particular resources except for his own ingenuity and creativity laced with a bit of deception. He orchestrated the deportation of eventually 669 children. He had even written to President Franklin Roosevelt asking if the United States would help by taking in some of the children.

When explaining all of this to Bob Simon, Sir Winton rather nonchalantly recalls that the United States refused to be of assistance and what a pity that was as he suspects they may have been able to save many more children.

The truly sad part of the story was the interview of Mr. Hugo Meisl. Mr Meisl was 10 years old in 1939. He vividly recalls the day Adolph Hitler rode through the streets of Prague. He along with the other children of Prague were lined up along the street route and were all told that as soon as the Führer rode past, they were to give the obligatory raised arm salute of Heil Hitler.

He was one of the 669 children that was saved during Nicholas Winton’s deportation scheme. Bob Simon asks if he remembers his parents taking him to the train station to send him to what was to be a journey to the safety of a new life in England. Mr Meisl recalls as if it was yesterday his parents taking him to the station that fateful day. They were not emotional but had told him that he was to go to England on a 2 month holiday, at which time they would then come join him.

Bob Simon presses Mr. Meisl asking if he had believed his parents. “Of course” Mr Meisl answers “We had every reason to believe our parents.”
As the interview continues, we all painfully realize that Mr. Meisl never saw his parents again. Bob Simon interjects “After the war you went back to Czechoslovakia… Was there one instant where you accepted the fact that your parents were dead?”

At this point, Mr. Meisl becomes quite emotional (as do I) explaining that for the next three years following the War, as the trains returned from Siberia, Russia, returning back to Czechoslovakia those who had fled or who had been taken prisoner, he searched for his parents.

I was personally so taken by the raw emotions of this man, who is now nearing 90, as he recalls the day he said good-bye to his parents and then of the 3 year search and wait for a return and reunion that never took place.

As a parent myself, I am hard pressed to imagine having to send my young child away to what I hoped was safety, knowing I most likely would never have seen him again. The total lack of control over my very life and that of my child’s life is something I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I find it a tragedy that so many free Americans and Europeans today have no true cognizant or emotional concept of the price paid by so many of our parents and grandparents during a time the majority of us have no understanding of—

We think that we would not tolerate such action taken against us or our family, and yet, the citizens of much of Europe in 1938 most likely felt the same as we do today.

In 1939 War was declared and the trains, with their cars full of young hopeful futures were all stopped, no longer being permitted to leave for the promise of safety and a future. A train was actually loaded up and was ready to depart the station just as the War was declared. It was in just a few short months that those same trains, now full of more children along with their parents, did indeed again depart Prague, but this time it was for a one way trip destined for what was to be Hitler’s final solution.

That 669 number of saved children, who were given the chance of freedom and life, went on to grow exponentially. The 669 married, having children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. 669 saved young lives grew to 15,000 lives–all full of hope, dreams, love and thanks to Nicholas Winton, life.

Life lived in squalor and the healing power of music

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash–all of them–surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered in rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”
Unknown

” A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of his body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. According to the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced. Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance. This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound before being visible is absorbed by the physical body. In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan, Mysticism of Sound

5327ef3a03f28
(an image of a small portion of the trash mountains which forms the base of Paraguay’s small city of Cateura)

As a veteran high school art teacher, I was constantly familiar with the ebb and flow of budgets.
In the lean years of the Economy–be it local, state, National, or all of the above–Educational systems would attempt their hand at creativity when it came to maintaining and offering a quality curriculum.

With losses in revenue, be they local, state or federal, activities and courses which were considered “non essential” to the learning process were always up for discussion as the yearly conversations would drift toward funding and budgets. Those programs being the initial proverbial lambs led to the slaughter of the chopping blocks were most often the Arts, Foreign Language, as well as Health and Physical Education.

One thing I always told my kids was that it has been and always will be the Arts— be it music, performance or visual, which have always given man his humanness—hence these being considered “The Humanities of Academia.

It is the Arts which makes us, man, civilized.

I could go on all day espousing the benefits of keeping the Arts in our schools. I could jump on my orator’s soap box, speaking to man’s responsibility when it comes to the Arts, as in understanding that there are parameters to creativity which are to be explored as well as respected—but I will allow a recent story as seen on 60 Minutes to speak for me and of the innate and essential relationship man has to the need for creativity–in this case, the making of music.

Sunday evening, the televised news “magazine” broadcast a story that had originally aired earlier in the television year. A story that I had originally missed.
It was the story of unspeakable poverty.
The wastefulness of man.
The creativity of Man.
As well as a story of the healing power found in both the creative process as well as in the making of music.
Hope in a sea of hopelessness.

The Recyclers: From Trash Comes Triumph
(http://www.cbsnews.com/news/recyclers-from-trash-comes-triumph-2/)

Once again it was the correspondent Bob Simon who shared the story of Paraguay’s unimaginable poverty and of the hope which rises up from the massive trash heaps–hope for the children who call Cateura, Paraguay home.

The story opens with shots of the acres and miles of trash which this small South American town has unimaginably grown up around. A city which emerged literally from the trash. Cateura is not far from the capital city of Asuncion and is the dumping ground for much of Paraguay.

As the camera panned the landscape, there was nothing but trash for as far as the eye could see. The buzzing sound of a legion of flies, off set by the sound of hundreds of birds, all looking to capitalize on some morsel from this sea of waste, was nerve racking.

And then I, the viewer, notice them—there amongst the mountains of garbage were hundreds of people, young and old, who were rooting throughout the trash, as say a pig might root through garbage, in search of anything salvageable to resell—be it plastic, glass, rubber, metal—anything that could be resold.

I, the viewer, was spared the unbearable stench but I knew it existed as many of those “digging” wore rags across their nose and mouth.
Let’s not talk about the health risks to such an endeavor. Let’s not talk about the generations of families who have made this sort of work their means of survival. Let’s not talk about how the children literally walk along narrow canals filled with feted waters and littered with trash as they navigate their way to school or anywhere for that matter. Let’s not talk about the city’s only source of water being highly toxic and contaminated. . .

It is almost incomprehensible that people live in Cateura.

And then the camera takes the viewer to a school with the unmistakable sound of orchestral music, albeit a bit out of tune, rising up from the dirty open courtyard. Suddenly we realize that the musical instruments the children are playing are not typical of what one would find in a school’s collection of instrument. These instruments give new meaning to the concept of “homemade”.

Rubbish instruments

These unlikely instruments were born from the creative thought of an environmental technician, Favio Chavez, who having come to Cateura, was amazed observing that the children of Cateura not only lived amongst the sea of trash, but they played here as well, just as other children world wide would play.

Next, meet Don Colá Gomez. Señor Gomez is a carpenter as well as a “trash digger” –but Señor Gomez digs not only for items of resale value, but he digs for something much more valuable. He digs and scavenges for items he can transform into musical instruments.

121217-paraguay-03.photoblog600

I was amazed watching Señor Gomez cutting and shaping scrapes of metal and plastics, fashioning them into violins, guitars, cellos, clarinets, flutes, drums, etc. The tuning pins could be a broken wooden rod, a dirty and discarded hair brush. The strings stripped from pieces of plastics. Drums from x-ray plates, clarinets from old rusted pipes. A factory made violin would cost more than the average home in Cateura. Ingenuity truly having to be the mother of invention in Señor Gomez’s workshop.

The children gather in the dirty school yard each Saturday to learn to play an instrument. The older children, those who have already been playing for a while, teach the younger children. Favio Chavez explains to the reporter that “music teaches the kids respect and responsibility, not common commodities in the gang-ridden streets of Cateura.”

I imagine that the music making of which Señor Chaves explains is something much greater than that of teaching children various attributes of character but rather that the music and the orchestra is a life line for these children—connecting them to the very core of human dignity.

Señor Chavez is actually taking the children of Caturea’s orchestra on tour. There is even a documentary being put together about this ragtag orchestra “Landfill Harmonic” complete with a rather viral trailer available on YouTube.

I will leave you with the words of Mirian Rios, one of the children’s grandmother. . . “I would say it’s a blessing from God. People used to humiliate us and call us “trash pickers.” Today they are more civilized, they call us the “recyclers.” So I feel that this is a reward from God. That our children who come from this place….can play beautiful music in this way

May we all learn to play such beautiful music

Members of the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura pose for the audience during a concert in Asuncion

When does 669 equal 15,000?

“The soul is healed by being with children.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Nicholas Winton

young_nicholas_winton_with_rescued_child
(Nicholas Winton in 1938 with a young Jewish boy in Prague)

The year is 1938.
You’re 28 years old, a young British stock broker—successful and living the good life.
You’ve been keeping up with the current events throughout Europe, with a particularly keen interest in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler is on the march.
The Czechs, particularly the Jews, are trying to get out while they still can.
The war drums are beginning to echo from across the English Channel.
You’ve got two weeks vacation saved up.
Seems like a perfect time for a trip to Prague. . .

Fast forward to Sunday evening, April 27, 2014—time for 60 Minutes.
Correspondent Bob Simon hosts the story “Saving The Children”
He introduces us to 104 year old Nicholas Winton.

winton_prazsky_hrad
(Sir Nicholas Winton today)

I was just in the process of finishing up the dishes when the story started. Intrigued with the story’s intro, I immediately stopped what I was doing in order to give the story my full attention.

By the time the 60 Minute story ends, tears are streaming down my cheeks.
A tale of heroic action by one who simply thought he had to make a difference.
He had no corporate financial backing.
He had no Governmental backing.
He was not a member of the military.
He was merely a young man with a big heart.
A young man who simply knew that there were people, in particular families with young children, who were now in trouble. Never mind that these people were on the continent proper, hundreds of miles from his own home.
He had no clue as to what he would find.
He had no idea as to how to he could “fix” the current “bleeding”
He simply knew in his heart that he had to go and he had to try to help.
Hitler and his dreaded Nazis were coming, as was now Nicholas Winton.
The two were on a collision course with destiny.
One to save lives, the other to take lives.

I’m providing a link for anyone who would like to view the original story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-during-world-war-11-60-minutes/

Mr. Winton, who is actually Sir Winton, is a most unassuming 104 year old British gentleman. He has a gentle, soft spoken demeanor, with an ever so sly smile. For nearly 50 years, Sir Winton never actually spoke of the life changing events which took place during a trip to Prague in 1938. Had his wife not found an old faded yellow and long forgotten scrape book in their attic, filled with the grainy black and white photographs of hundreds of young children, the world may never have known of the difference one young Englishman had made so very long ago.

When asked by Bob Simon as to why he never told any one of his most heroic feat which spanned 1938-1939, Sir Winton replied that it wasn’t that he kept it secret, he just didn’t find it important to go on about it.
That was then.
This is now.
And he currently has other irons in the fire.

At 104 Sir Winton is currently involved in working with the elderly mentally handicapped of London as well as for building homes for senior citizens. Interesting that a man of 104 feels a deep need to take care of those who are a bit younger than himself when it seems as if he would be the one in need of care.

I will briefly delve into only the general specifics of Sir Winton’s heroic act of 1938, as you may certainly visit the 60 Minute link or peruse the Web for a more in-depth story of this remarkable man— I will however whet your appetite with a few of the highlights.

As the Nazis rolled into then Czechoslovakia, wanting to literally take the Sudetenland, which they felt was rightfully their own, just as they had rolled into Austria and soon Poland and Hungary, the citizens of Czechoslovakia began to panic, especially the Jews. Nicholas Winton was reading about these disturbing unfolding events in the daily news with keen interest. He decided to use his time saved for holiday for a trip to Prague to see what, if anything, he could do to help.

The short end of story is that Sir Winton decided to get out as many children as possible from the impending falling death ridden curtain which was quickly descending not only over Czechoslovakia but over most of Europe. He had no particular resources except for his own ingenuity and creativity laced with a bit of deception. He orchestrated the deportation of eventually 669 children. He had even written to President Franklin Roosevelt asking if the United States would help by taking in some of the children.

When explaining all of this to Bob Simon, Sir Winton rather nonchalantly recalls that the United States refused to be of assistance and what a pity that was as he suspects they may have been able to save many more children.

The truly sad part of the story was the interview of Mr. Hugo Meisl. Mr Meisl was 10 years old in 1939. He vividly recalls the day Adolph Hitler rode through the streets of Prague. He along with the other children of Prague were lined up along the street route and were all told that as soon as the Führer rode past, they were to give the obligatory raised arm salute of Heil Hitler.

He was one of the 669 children that was saved during Nicholas Winton’s deportation scheme. Bob Simon asks if he remembers his parents taking him to the train station to send him to what was to be a journey to the safety of a new life in England. Mr Meisl recalls as if it was yesterday his parents taking him to the station that fateful day. They were not emotional but had told him that he was to go to England on a 2 month holiday, at which time they would then come join him.

Bob Simon presses Mr. Meisl asking if he had believed his parents. “Of course” Mr Meisl answers “We had every reason to believe our parents.”
As the interview continues, we all painfully realize that Mr. Meisl never saw his parents again. Bob Simon interjects “After the war you went back to Czechoslovakia… Was there one instant where you accepted the fact that your parents were dead?”

At this point, Mr. Meisl becomes quite emotional (as do I) explaining that for the next three years following the War, as the trains returned from Siberia, Russia, returning back to Czechoslovakia those who had fled or who had been taken prisoner, he searched for his parents.

I was personally so taken by the raw emotions of this man, who is now nearing 90, as he recalls the day he said good-bye to his parents and then of the 3 year search and wait for a return and reunion that never took place.

As a parent myself, I am hard pressed to imagine having to send my young child away to what I hoped was safety, knowing I most likely would never have seen him again. The total lack of control over my very life and that of my child’s life is something I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I find it a tragedy that so many free Americans and Europeans today have no true cognizant or emotional concept of the price paid by so many of our parents and grandparents during a time the majority of us have no understanding of—

We think that we would not tolerate such action taken against us or our family, and yet, the citizens of much of Europe in 1938 most likely felt the same as we do today.

In 1939 War was declared and the trains, with their cars full of young hopeful futures were all stopped, no longer being permitted to leave for the promise of safety and a future. A train was actually loaded up and was ready to depart the station just as the War was declared. It was in just a few short months that those same trains, now full of more children along with their parents, did indeed again depart Prague, but this time it was for a one way trip destined for what was to be Hitler’s final solution.

That 669 number of saved children, who were given the chance of freedom and life, went on to grow exponentially. The 669 married, having children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. 669 saved young lives grew to 15,000 lives–all full of hope, dreams, love and thanks to Nicholas Winton, life.