It’s just about impossible to watch this one without becoming misty-eyed…and it’s a great documentary, that’s for sure.

While the story of Nicholas Winton is relatively well known in the UK today, many people outside the country still have no idea who he is and why he’s recently become famous. This story is about how this man’s actions just before World War Two have made a huge impact on the world today.

Back in very late 1938, Winton was traveling across Europe. He happened to go to Czechoslovakia instead of his original choice, Switzerland. When he arrived in Prague, he was amazed at the virulence of the new Nazi regime against the Jews and he was one of the few outsiders who recognized this for what it was. Most at the time thought the anti-Semitism would just blow over–Winton recognized that it could mean death to all these people. Some of the Jews in Czechoslovakia also thought that the Nazis intended to kill them and soon Winton organized a scheme to get as many Jewish children out of Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia as they could. All in all, he was responsible for organizing an effort which saved almost 700 children–sending them off to live in the UK for the duration of the war. For this, some folks have referred to him as ‘Britain’s Schindler.’

Oddly, Winton’s efforts went mostly unnoticed after the war and Winton himself didn’t talk about it. In fact, he didn’t even tell his wife until they were very, very elderly. She was amazed and decided to do something about it–and she went to the BBC and other agencies to talk about her husband’s pre-war activities. The story resonated with the TV service and soon they began contacting as many of the surviving refugees that Winton’s efforts saved in order to honor the man. Then, in his upper 90s, Winton was finally publicly recognized for his actions on television.

However, the film is NOT just about Winton. While he is very important to the beginning and ending of the film, so much fills in the middle portion of the documentary. Had it been just about Winton, it would have been an exceptional picture. Instead, it also focuses on the children–their experiences at the time and their lives after the war. Additionally, like the analogy they give of a stone being tossed into the water, the ‘ripples’ created by these lives is what makes the film so incredibly special. There is also a lot of focus is on children today throughout the world who are now celebrating Winton’s legacy by giving back to others–and in effect, these are all members of Nicky’s family. The many volunteer activities kids do today as well as a huge celebration of Winton and the Czech refugees make the film magical to watch–and will definitely bring a few tears to your eyes. So, while the story is incredibly sad since the parents of these refugee children died horribly, this isn’t the end of the story–there is hope and goodness.

So who is the audience for this film? I’d say just about anyone. Because the film is careful to thoroughly explain Nazi anti-Semitism, the climate of the late 1930s as well as the Holocaust, it’s excellent for kids who don’t yet know about WWII and the massacres. And, it’s also appropriate because although it talks about these horrors, it lacks the extremely gory images you might find in many documentaries about the Holocaust. Now I am not being critical of films which do–but because this one doesn’t, parents can rest assured that the kids will learn about these events without worrying about there being age inappropriate content. As for adults, they, too, will enjoy the film and draw great inspiration from the folks in the Nicky’s Family. All in all, it’s one of the most inspiring and heart-felt films I have seen in a long, long time. Be sure to watch it with a box of Kleenex handy.

By the way, since Winton was recognized for his heroism, his wife has since passed–and Winton seemed heartbroken because of this. However, at 105, Winton is STILL going strong. I was amazed in the film how active, alert and humble the guy is. Also, for his efforts he was knighted and is now Sir Nicholas Winton.

Martin’s Grade: A+

by Martin Hafer