Saturday, November 23, 2013

669 lives

In 1938, a British stockbroker named Nicholas Winton was about to go on skiing vacation in Switzerland when a friend asked him to come to Prague instead. He arrived at a Czech refugee camp instead of his planned ski trip. The camp was filled with Jewish families trying to escape before the Germans arrived. In Winton's words, “I felt compelled to do something.”

He spent the next nine months using his money and organizational skills to arrange for hundreds of children to be evacuated by train and fostered by British families. He was 29 years old. He saved 669 children that year.  And afterwards, he didn't tell anyone what he had done.

50 years later, his wife discovered his journals in a briefcase in the attic. The children's names were in a scrapbook he had kept.  Here's footage of Winton realizing he's sitting next to dozens of the now-grown children:

We talk about “lives saved.” Mentally, I know that this year my donations will save several people's lives, and keep many more from getting sick. But it's so different to actually see those people assembled in a room.

Winton is still alive at age 104, and the children he saved are themselves old. One became a member of Parliament, another a groundbreaking geneticist, another a journalist and author. And most of them went on to do nothing especially remarkable except grow up, go to school, work, get married, have children, and generally do the things people enjoy doing when they don't die at age 6.

Recently someone asked me if it wasn't rather limiting, not getting to do as much travel as I might if I didn't donate. It's hard to imagine that Nicholas Winton regrets giving up his ski trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment