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It was the man's age which I noticed as I scanned the pages of the magazine I was reading, not his name, though I must have heard about him at the time. The obituary notice informed readers that he had died on 1st July at the age of 106, and his name was Nicholas Winton, a stockbroker from Hampstead. Apart from his longevity, not much could be more ordinary, but after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, he rescued 669 Jewish children from almost certain death in the extermination camps set up for those of the wrong racial origin.

It wasn't that he had set out with any such project in mind. He had gone to Czechoslovakia for a holiday, but word had got around that he was a foreigner, an Englishman, who might be able to help, and from early morning there were knocks on his hotel door. He would find there some shivering, starving figure. Many were alone and orphaned; some were accompanied by parents who, by themselves, could do nothing to save their children. At the time, Home Office permits were required for entry to Britain and sponsors willing to take children when they arrived. Few parents had either the means or the knowledge needed to arrange this. Nicholas, however, had both the knowledge and the means, and in his own words, 'could not stand by and do nothing'.

He extended his stay to establish contacts with the Jewish community and returned to England to find sponsors, apply for permits and organise the trains which would take the children across the borders to Holland and thence to England by ferry. He put photographs in the 'Picture Post' and wrote letters to newspapers and even to Senators in the USA. He organised volunteers to meet the trains at Liverpool Street station and guide them to their destinations. And all this without thinking he was doing anything that anyone else would not have done in similar circumstances.

Perhaps the Good Samaritan, in the parable told by Jesus, would have said the same thing if asked, but of course, in the parable there were those who 'passed by on the other side'. In real life there are those who 'can't stand by and do nothing' and those who 'don't want to get involved'. Reading the obituary of Nicholas Winton made me question once again which group I belong to.

Bob Weighton

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