I never met Sir Nicholas but I think it’s fair to say that I love the guy. I don’t mean a la “I love Fred Astaire” or “I love Mozart” – I mean the guy melts my heart. There were floods of tears when I watched this!
For me, there is an extra poignancy in watching that very emotional You Tube clip: my late great grandparents, who lived in Sunderland, took into their family one of the kindertransport children. My late grandmother used to tell me of her memories of a little girl, Frederika, coming to their house with a small suitcase, the clothes so neatly packed. Grandma remembered hearing this little girl crying in the bedroom next to hers and going to her to comfort her, to tell her that everything would be ok. Frederika (she later changed her name to Gila) grew up as one of the family and Grandma (and I assume her sisters) always kept in touch with her. Mum, dad, my sister and I have met up with her many times.
I defy you not to cry again when you watch this, a speech by Sir Nicholas in 2014 when he was 105. How on Earth was this man not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?!
Such goodness, such selfless altruism, such humility – and that’s the thing here, humility – a man motivated purely and simply by an inherent drive to help, regardless of the risk to his own life, it makes me question the very nature of goodness and evil.
Are some people born ‘good’ and some born ‘evil’?
Many people believe, and I have intermittently believed, that no one is born, for example, a racist, that it is ‘learnt behaviour’. I do believe, and it’s not hard to understand how it can happen, that a child can be born into a racist family and develop racist ways of thinking. The same child can be born into the opposite circumstances and become a person who advocates fairness and equality. However, I can’t help believing that some people – many people – are born with warped and twisted minds, i.e. are born evil and, therefore, I believe that some people are born at the opposite end of the humanity spectrum, born with such inherent goodness that most of us can barely comprehend how they do what they do, how they manage to exhibit such courage.
So are some people born evil? Jewish teaching has always informed me that no person is born evil. On the one hand, looking at Hitler, for example, one can see that the path of his life, his childhood, army service, rejection, bitterness and anger led to his role later in life. Many people ask “If Hitler had been successful in his application for art school and had been a successful artist, would history have been very different?” – answer: probably yes. Would his hatred of Jews and other minorities still have existed? Who knows?? I think that he was inherently an evil person, that he was born ‘that way’ and that whilst external factors certainly did nothing to push him off the dark path, he would, in other circumstances, have still been dangerous. I believe that Hitler was one of those people I referred to earlier, a person born with a warped and twisted mind which rendered him different from ‘the norm’ – evil. Such evil is so ‘unnatural’ that I can’t help thinking that it comes from being wired incorrectly.
Another example of what I believe is ‘born evil’: Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who, at the age of 10, took at 2 year old child, James/Jamie Bulger, from under the noses of his parents in a shopping centre in Liverpool and incomprehensibly tortured and murdered him and then mutilated his body. No one can tell me that those murderers are anything but children who were born evil. Venable’s behaviour in the years that have followed this atrocity have done nothing to convince me otherwise.
So what about the opposite – goodness? I’m sure that people can be born into circumstances which nurture kindness but I also believe that some people are born ‘special’. This, of course, brings me back to Sir Nicholas.
In this BBC obituary, I’m not sure why Elie Wiesel is referred to as ‘another’ Nobel Peace Prize winner – Sir Nicholas was not awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and shame on the Nobel organisation for that travesty!
It appears from what I have read that Sir Nicholas was born into a somewhat privileged environment. He attended Stowe (school) (irrelevant, I know, but I guess he’ll have known one of my movie star favs, David Niven). Although born Jewish, he didn’t identify with the religion. He was baptised as a child and entered adult life as a Christian English ‘gent’ but his antennae picked up the warning signals, he was sensitive to the signs that were all around. He didn’t absolve himself from a sense of personal responsibility for helping those stranded in Nazi Europe by telling himself that it wasn’t his problem. Attributed to the English philosopher is the oft quoted
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing’
Sir Nicholas was not one of those good people who did nothing!
Martin Blake, one of Sir Nicholas’ schoolmasters and an emissary for the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, he recognised that goodness and called on Sir Nicholas to help save the lives of children in Prague. The rest, of course, is history.
After the war, Sir Nicholas continued to be fuelled and motivated by goodness. He worked for the International Refugee Organisation in Geneva and when he retired from a business career in 1967, Mencap, and the Abbeyfield Housing Association were the beneficiaries of much of his newfound ‘spare’ time.
Of course, what differentiates people who do good from people who not only do good but who ARE good to their core, good in their hearts and good in their souls, is humility, doing good for the sake of doing good, not wanting medals, applause nor recognition. I quote the following from The Times obituary:
“For half a century, the 669 children, now dispersed all over the world, were unaware of who had saved them. Even Winton’s wife Grete had little knowledge of it until in January 1988, when she came across a long-forgotten scrapbook documenting Winton’s actions, and the list of all the 669 children he had helped to safety.”
Sir Nicholas was not born into circumstances which one can point to as the factors which would have nurtured and encouraged empathy with children trapped in Hitler’s hell hole. He was, quite simply, goodness personified. Most of us are people, a few are angels. Sir Nicholas was an angel.
May his dear soul rise high in Heaven, may G-d protect his soul and may the power and the beauty of Sir Nicholas’ soul always shine its light and throws its protective, loving shadow over all of us.
RIP, great man…