A Man Who Didn’t Give in: Sir Nicholas Winton

 

“I work on the motto that if something isn’t impossible, there must be a way of doing it.” So said Sir Nicholas Winton when asked how he saved the lives of 669 children. Sir Nicholas died yesterday at the age of 106. Before you give up on whatever challenge faces you, get to know his story. The video documentary (above) includes a 2014 interview of Winton. I wrote this essay in 2009: To Save One Life is to Save the World/

Father’s Day (via Dr. Gerald Stein – Blogging About Psychotherapy from Chicago)

This is a revised and expanded version of a post I wrote two years ago about my father.

Father's Day Father’s Day can be complicated. Like any day of honor, some tributes are deserved more than others, or not at all. Some obligations are carried out with joy, while others are a matter of dutiful routine. And sometimes there is pain, where once there was (or should have been) pleasure. But, for myself, Father’s Day is pretty simple. While I miss my dad (who died 11 years ago), the sense of loss is no longer great. He was 88 when he stroked-out in … Read More

via Dr. Gerald Stein – Blogging About Psychotherapy from Chicago

“To Save One Life Is As If You Have Saved The World:” Nicholas Winton And The “Kindertransport”

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It was an easy story to miss: the 100th birthday of someone you’ve never heard of. Not even someone from the USA. But to some people, the most important man in their lives. Indeed, the man without whom they would have no life.

Sir Nicholas Winton was born 100 years ago in England on September 4, 1909. In late 1938 he set out to create an organization designed to find a place for Jewish children in Czechoslovakia imperiled by the Nazis. Only a short time before, England passed a law allowing children to take refuge there within limits: they needed a sponsoring home in England and 50 pounds sterling as an advance toward a return trip back to Eastern Europe, at such time as political events would permit. In all, 669 children no older than 16 made the train trip, thanks to the efforts of Winton and others to find sponsors for these young people (in effect, adoptive parents), the money to support their travel, and the necessary 50 pounds for the hoped for return that was not to come.

One can only imagine the feelings of the parents and the children as the latter boarded the transport; parents promising their children, as many did, that they would all be reunited. Of course, death in the Holocaust would dash such expectations. The project ended when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, World War II broke out, and safe passage across the continent was no longer possible.

Typical of many rescuers, Winton made little fanfare of his altruism. Indeed, until 1988, when he was nearly 80, not even his wife knew what he had done. Only her accidental discovery of a scrapbook documenting his activities led to wider acknowledgment of Winton’s good works, including a Knighthood and a nomination for the Noble Peace Prize by the Czech government.

On September 1, 2009 several of the children Winton saved, now elderly themselves, took the original train used in the Kindertransport in a replication of the journey they had made 70 years before. And when they reached London, Sir Nicholas was there to greet them. Many brought along their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In all, there are approximately 7000 descendants of the original group saved by this man. Children were among those most vulnerable to the Nazis, so it is safe to say that few if any of the 669, not to mention their descendants, would be alive but for the generosity and effort of Sir Nicholas.

The Jewish Talmud states that “to save one life is as if you have saved the world.”

Indeed.

The 1939 photo is of Nicholas Winton with a child he saved. The NY Times obituary can be found here: Nicholas Winton NY Times Obituary.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day can be complicated.

Like any day of honor, some tributes are deserved more than others, or not at all.

Some obligations are carried out with joy, while others are a matter of dutiful routine.

And sometimes there is pain, where once there was (or should have been) pleasure.

But, for myself, Father’s Day is pretty simple.

While I miss my dad (who died 11 years ago), the sense of loss is no longer great. He was 88 when he stroked-out in July 2000, soon to be followed by my mother in February 2001, and our family dog in November 2001: a tough 16 months.

The experience taught me what Hamlet’s uncle Claudius knew when he said to his wife (Hamlet’s mother), “O Gertrude, Gertrude, when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”

“When will dad be OK again?” my children asked my own wife. It took a little while, but eventually time and the loving support of family and friends did the job of healing.

But being healed isn’t the same as being indifferent and, as I said earlier, I still miss my father.

If you saw the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married” with Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage, think back to the scene of her time-travel from middle age to age 16; specifically, to the moment when she talked to her deceased grandmother on the phone, now suddenly back to life.

I’d give a lot to have a moment like that with my dad.


My father was a good story-teller. One of his favorites was about his time as a star Chicago Cubs pitcher.

He wasn’t, of course.

Somehow, all the records of his “career” in the major leagues had been “lost,” or so he told us. He also informed me and my brothers that he’d been able to pitch nearly every day, and was so reliable and dependable that his teammates called him “Rain or Shine” Milt Stein (able to pitch, “rain or shine”). We all came to value this funny tale and, in fact, had my wife and I had a male child, the boy’s middle name would have been “Rainer,” as in “rain or shine,” in honor of the newborn’s grandfather.

Another story he told frequently was based in fact rather than imagination.

Twenty year old Milt Stein had a tough time in 1932, the depth of the Great Depression. He could find little steady work, though he had enough to eat thanks to living with his parents. Finally, he landed a full-time job at the opening of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. His boss told him that he could work every day if he wished (although he didn’t have to), but work and money were so dear that he did — 170 consecutive days from May 27th into November.

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It was a few years after my dad died when I first realized that these two stories were actually different ways of telling the same morality tale: my dad was “Rain or Shine” Milt Stein, reliable and hard-working, both on the imaginary playing field of his “major league” career and at the World’s Fair performing a real job.

I don’t even know if my father was aware of the connection between these stories.

Dad was an intelligent, but uncomplicated man. If he had lived in a more prosperous time he’d certainly have graduated college. But, as things turned out he worked as a postal supervisor, raised three boys, and was married to the same woman for almost 60 years.

When I was very little, my father played a game of make-believe with me. In those days before everyone had some sort of recording device, he used our floor model vacuum cleaner extension as a pretend microphone for a radio show he fashioned out of his imagination. We would take turns speaking into the nozzle as he interviewed me.

I guess my career in interviewing people goes pretty far back.

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I owe my love of baseball, a sense of fair play, and a strong work ethic to my father; and the fact that years later, each night at bedtime, I would reach into my own imagination as he did with me during our “radio show,” to tell my young daughters a story; a different one nearly every night, especially with my first-born.

Dad was not a perfect man or a perfect father. His three sons all saw too little of him because of his dedication to work and the shadow of the Great Depression on his view of matters financial. He deferred to my mother too much for our well-being.

But it is Father’s Day, not the day to get into his shortcomings.

In 1985 Milton Stein’s youngest brother, my Uncle Harry, died suddenly. I’d not been very close to my uncle, so that loss didn’t much affect me except for the fact that it made my dad’s mortality palpable to me: if Harry, my father’s youngest brother could die, then surely my father would, possibly soon. The family history of heart disease had killed Harry, and my dad had narrowly escaped alive from his own heart attack at age 47, over 25 years before.

In the wake of Harry’s death, I asked my “old man” (now genuinely old) if he’d be open to doing a videotaped history of his life, with me as the interviewer — the “radio show” with the roles reversed. He complied readily.

I still have the four hours of video that my father and I created together. Much of it is filled with the detail of his life, but at a few points my normally controlled dad let down his guard.

Most moving of all was his recollection of returning to the USA from WWII service in Europe. He hadn’t seen my mom for about two years. He called her as soon as he was situated on American soil.

As I’ve detailed elsewhere (Love Letters), the catch in Milton Stein’s voice and the tears in his eyes as he recalled hearing the woman he ached for — the love of his life — would have been unforgettable even without the video evidence.

I’m sure that you can tell I have a soft spot for my dad.

And, lucky me, I have two wonderful daughters who will make me feel like the most important person in the world on Father’s Day.

But, I’m even luckier than that.

They make me feel like it is Father’s Day every day.

The photos above are all of my father, with the obvious exception of the vacuum cleaner, made available from the Open Clip Art Library; and the poster from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, created by Weimer Pursell, silkscreen print by Neely Printing Co., Chicago; both sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The first picture of my dad is probably from some time in the early to mid-1930s. The second photo looks as though he was a teenager when it was taken.

The night time snap-shot probably took my dad by surprise while he was on a date, before he met his wife-to-be (my mother). It was likely shot by a street photographer, who would have handed my father a numbered envelope that identified the negative. Dad would have had to mail the envelope to the company with payment in order to get developed copies of the picture.

I recall seeing such photographers in downtown Chicago at least as late as the 1960s. Now, of course, just about everyone carries his own camera/phone.

The final image is of the young Stein family in late 1959: my mom and dad and, left to right, Jack, myself, and Eddie.

Anniversaries

Anniversaries are important. We draw attention to the accomplishments, feelings, relationships, and memories that mark the times of our life. And, as it happens, there is an important anniversary coming up, at least for me and a small group of old friends called “The Zeolites.”

We are 10 friends who were students at Chicago’s Mather High School. Now, I suppose, we can best be described as an accidental philanthropic organization. Back in the day, 1963 to be exact, we did two things that would prove to have a much bigger impact on our lives than any of us could have expected: we entered a team in the summer softball league at Mather Park and we promised to meet on the front steps of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 37 years time, the first day of a new century: January 1, 2000, at noon.

When the day itself arrived, eight of the 10 old friends kept that promise, coming from as far away as Seattle, Connecticut, Detroit, and California. A few days later I spoke with Bob Greene, then a writer for the Chicago Tribune, who wrote a column called “The Story Behind the Men on the Museum Steps” on January 10, 2000.

At the time, Greene’s column was widely read in Chicago, and his readership included people at the Northbrook, IL based Culligan Corporation, the people whose advertisements featured the slogan “Hey Culligan Man.” In 1963 we’d actually attempted to get the people at Culligan to sponsor our softball team and buy us t-shirts that said “Culligan Men” since we thought that would be a clever name for our group. Culligan had refused our request in 1963, but upon reading Greene’s column, decided to make it up to us. Not only did they offer to give us the t-shirts we’d asked for 37 years before, they provided us with a $2000 grant which we used as seed money to fund a scholarship at our old high school when it was matched by $250 from each of the eight reunited Zeolites.

Over the past 10 years we have been joined in this philanthropic effort by well over 100 of our former classmates from Mather’s Class of 1964/65 and have given scholarships that total over $100,000.

And so, on May 1, 2009 we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Zeolite Scholarship Fund, the 10th time we’ve gone to Mather to give money away to some talented and needy young people. Moreover, it will be the very first time that all eight of the founding members of the scholarship fund will be present at the same ceremony. The occasion has become the focal point for an annual “mini-reunion” of our high school class; and it is enormously satisfying and great fun to reconnect to the people with whom we grew up. To learn more about us, you can view our web site at: http://www.zeolitescholarshipfund.com/

As I said earlier, we didn’t plan anything like this back in 1963. We were just 10 friends who enjoyed each other’s company and thought that a reunion in the distant future sounded like fun. But, I guess it shows that if you are lucky and pull together with your friends, you can make at least a small difference in the world.

Try it and see.