The Bergen County Y Jewish Community Center (YJCC) of Washington, New Jersey hosted an evening showing on August 12, featuring Matej Minac’s documentary movie Nicky’s Family, which was released in 2011 and documents the efforts of the late Sir Nicholas Winton saving 669 Jewish children from the hands of Nazi persecution prior to World War II. The evening was in honor of Winton, who died in July. Winton was a British businessman who went to Czechoslovakia just prior to the outbreak of World War II. He was moved enough about the plight facing Jewish children there, in what had then just become the Nazi-occupied territory, that he set up a program to try to save as many of these children as possible.
The movie powerfully documented the complications that Winton faced in setting up his program from scratch. Nothing existed of this sort at the time. In fact, most countries had set strict limits of the amount of Jewish refugees that they would allow in. However, Winton relentlessly worked to try to make this program of bringing young Czechoslovakian children a success. He tirelessly went about setting up this program and pursuing every avenue to get the children adopted by British families.
The program has been considered a great success in history, but the movie details just how challenging it was. The Nazis caught on and constantly tried to intervene, including employing the efforts of a beautiful blonde woman to woo Winton. At every turn, Winton faced challenges, but kept at it, lobbying the British government to allow as many of these children into the country as possible and publicizing pictures of the children for interested British families. There were the challenges of the families of the children, as well. This movie captures the obviously strong emotions and doubts that these families felt, and all of the uncertainties surrounding this decision. As the children were taken to the train station to head out of Czechoslovakia and begin the long journey to Britain, the families they were leaving behind were torn, knowing that this was the best chance for their children to survive, but surely feeling uncertainty regarding this decision, and sadness at having to take such measures. Winton worked to save as many children as he could before the war started and ended all possibility of saving more children. Still, the program ultimately was a huge success, and now, Winton is considered a national hero in Great Britain.
Winton fought for the Royal Air Force against Nazi Germany during the war. After the war ended, he returned to a relatively quiet life and kept his heroic efforts to save all of those children secret. If not for his wife accidentally stumbling on records of the children, and then inquiring her husband about the meaning of this, the story might have remained a secret. Instead, it quickly grew into a well-publicized story and gained more and more press over time. Eventually, Winton became known as the “British Schindler,” a reference to Oscar Schindler, the German businessman who set up a factory using Jewish labor in Nazi-occupied Krakow, Poland, and wound up saving most of the people that he employed, at great expense to himself.
Not everyone was pleased with this movie’s portrayal of this story. Reviews of Minac’s film generated some considerable criticism and negative reviews, with Minac himself receiving much of the criticism for getting in his own way of being able to tell the story in a more powerful manner. Among some of the criticisms were the poor choice of music that tended to drown out actual interviews of some of the children, as well as poor reenactments of these historical chapters. These are some of the major criticisms of the movie that documents Winton’s efforts to save Jewish children.
Hanna Slome, one of the 669 children saved by Winton’s efforts over three-quarters of a century ago, was present at the YJCC on the evening that it aired the movie which documents Winton’s efforts to save Jewish children. She answered questions by the audience following the movie, and discussed in part why Winton went to such lengths to do what he did, and elaborated a bit on Winton’s own Jewish heritage, including how the family changed their name to Winton to sound less Jewish, after suffering through some persecution. Slome also discussed her own life in some detail and joked that she could talk for hours.
Opinion By Charles Bordeau
The Los Angeles Times: Review: ‘Nicky’s Family’ Wastes a Compelling Story of Heroism by Robert Abele, July 17, 2013
Slant Magazine: Nicky’s Family by Robert Huamnick, July 18, 2013
Hollywood Reporter: Nicky’s Family: Film Review
IMBD: Nicky’s Family (2011)
Photo courtesy of German Embassy London’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License