As 2016 begins, we reflect on what transpired in 2015 and what lies ahead in the New Year. The terrorism we saw recently in Paris and San Bernardino was terrible; but 6,000 people are alive today who witnessed those events through the eyes of 669 relatives who would have perished in the Nazi Holocaust if it hadn’t been for one man—a man who passed away July 1 at the age of 106.
In 1938, 29-year-old British stockbroker Nicholas Winton saw a tragedy unfolding, as Hitler’s army threatened to occupy Czechoslovakia and exterminate its Jewish population. His story and that of his “family” is portrayed in one of the most powerful documentary films I’ve ever seen.
“Nicky’s Family  is an emotional retelling of the remarkable efforts one man took to rescue 669 Czech children from near-certain death during World War II. Sir Nicholas Winton was a young English businessman when chance brought him to Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He put aside his own pursuits and began organizing the many children of Jewish refugees who were trying to escape Nazi clutches. Once he had appointed himself the authority for such matters, Winton went to work arranging transport and placing these children in English homes.”
As the film’s director noted about Winton, “His exploits would have probably been forgotten if his wife, fifty years later, hadn’t found a suitcase in the attic, full of documents and transport plans. Today the story of this rescue is known all over the world. Dozens of Winton’s ‘children’ have been found and to this day his family has grown to almost 6,000 people, many of whom have gone on to achieve great things themselves.”
The film was produced in 2011 when Winton was 102. It features him and many of the children he saved, who are now in their seventies and eighties themselves. The most emotional scene to me is when Sir Winton (he was knighted by the Queen for his efforts) first met many of these now-grown children whom he hadn’t seen since 1939.
I found the most powerful statement he made in the film was when he related how, during his rescue operation, two British rabbis told him they objected to him placing some of his Czech Jewish children with English Christian families. Winton told them that he preferred Jewish children living in Christian families than dying with their families in what quickly became the Nazi Holocaust.
My friend Larry Reed, now President of the Foundation for Economic Education, first met and interviewed Nicholas Winton in 2006, and visited him regularly until last year. When I first heard Larry’s story about his friendship with Sir Nicholas, I thought how fortunate I was to be separated by just one degree from this hero of humanity.
Freedom and liberty are universal human aspirations, but they are continually under assault here and around the world. Nicholas Winton wouldn’t accept the fact that many countries closed their borders to helpless children trying to escape near-certain death at the hands of what can be seen today as 1930’s Nazi terrorists.
If you appreciate inspiring stories about real-world heroes, you won’t find a better one than Nicky’s Family. Watch the movie trailer here; then you can buy the 96-minute DVD or stream it at Netflix and Amazon.
As you celebrate this New Year, realize that more than 6,000 people are celebrating it with you thanks to Nicky Winton.
Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.