Nicholas Winton: Rejecting "Passive Goodness"
by Catherine Shenton
Editor's Note: Watch this incredible video on Sir Nicholas Winton.
It was not until they had been married for around forty years that Nicholas Winton’s wife found out what her husband had done as a young man in 1939. In December of 1938, Winton took his winter vacation from his work as a London stockbroker. Instead going skiing in Switzerland, as he had previously planned, he decided to visit a friend who was doing humanitarian work in Prague. What he saw there would change his life.
With his friend, Winton visited the camps where the Jewish people of Czechoslovakia were living. He saw that while many vulnerable adults were being evacuated, no one yet was working to get the children out of the imminent danger of a Nazi invasion. Within a few weeks he returned to London, but what he had seen convicted him to work to rescue those children.
He continued his job at the London Stock Exchange, and in his remaining time began working tirelessly to save their lives: obtaining permission from the British government for the children to enter the country, provided they had a foster family to care for them and a sum of money as a guarantee. He and a small group of others found these families to take in the children, raised the necessary funds, and spent countless hours organizing passports and travel documents.
Because of his work, eight trains carrying a total of 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children made the journey from Prague to London, where foster families waited. Their return tickets were not used—by the time the war was over, most of them had no family members left to return to. The only reason they were alive was because Winton’s efforts had gotten them out of danger soon enough. In spite of this, Winton didn’t see himself as a hero. “I just saw what was going on and did what I could to help,” he said.
Winton didn’t know these children—he simply witnessed their plight and refused to do nothing about it. He never met most of them—many of them didn’t even learn the name of this man who had saved them from almost certain death until many years later. In fact, hardly anyone knew what he had done to save the children until his wife discovered a scrapbook from this time in their attic in the late 1980s.
For Nicholas Winton, it wasn’t about being a hero. It wasn’t about recognition. It was about responding to the need of the people he saw in front of him. In a letter he wrote in 1939, Winton told a friend,
"There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one's time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails giving out, finding out, and helping those, who are suffering and in danger, and, not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way by doing no wrong."
What will we do? Will we content ourselves with a life of passive goodness, of merely refusing to participate in evil, or will we commit to active goodness, to dedicating our time and efforts to rescuing the children in our own country who are in imminent danger of death? What will we do to save the lives of these children we have never met and may never meet whose lives are being claimed day by day by abortion? What will we do to EndtheKilling?
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