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FILM REVIEW:Nicky’s Family

Nicky’s Family will be screened at the Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival on Monday, March 26, 7 p.m.

By Hannah Lee ~

Can you imagine saving the lives of 669 strangers and not talking about it for 50 years — that is, until your wife finds the scrapbook you’ve made in the chaotic prelude to the outbreak of World War II? That’s the true story of Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker who spent his Christmas holiday in Czechoslovakia when Jewish refugees started fleeing the regions bordering Germany. His compassion for their desperate plight propelled him to single-handedly mobilize a rescue mission to save their children. His international appeals to governments were ignored by all but his own and Sweden. England agreed to issue him visas as long as he could find families to take in the children, as well as pay 50 pounds per child. Once war broke out, he changed course to serve his own country and never spoke about it again.
Appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his work in establishing homes for the elderly in Britain and knighted in 2002 for his role in the Czech kindertransports, the very active and lively Sir Nicholas will turn 103 on May 19.
The story of his heroic act is recounted in the film “Nicky’s Family” by Czech director Matej Minac, who was raised by a mother who survived Auschwitz. The film will be shown at the Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival on Monday, March 26.
“Nicky’s Family” intersperses interviews with the now-elderly rescued children with newsreel footage and re-enactments with Czech actors, who do not have speaking roles in the American version. The re-enactments depicted the emotional aspects of these rescues, such as the one of Marta, a mother who was hesitant about giving up her small child. In the film, the scene depicts her retrieving her daughter, and then chasing the train to return her through the window to the group.
So why did Nicky remain silent about his deed? In the film, he said that it was no longer relevant and he “had much more interesting” things to share. Maybe it was because his last and biggest transport of 250 children was aborted by the outbreak of the war, a view offered by Peter Rafaeli, the “honorary Czech consul” in Philadelphia, the person who’d spent seven years lobbying for American recognition of these courageous rescues, culminating in the Congressional bill HR583.
How did Nicky raise the money he needed — without an organization backing him? Minac said that Nicky had good money sense, being in the financial profession. He took photographs of the children and made photo cards with six children depicted on each card. Prospective families were shown the cards and asked to make a selection. His methodology was very effective and he found families over a narrow window of several months in 1939.
How many of the rescued children remained Jewish?  Minac said that about 90 percent of the children were Jewish, but the transports also included children from other families also targeted for persecution by the Nazis.  In the film, Nicky recalled being rebuked by some people in England for sending the Jewish children to Christian homes, but his defense was that it was better than the alternative of dead Jewish children.  Minac said that a few of the children were reunited with their families but it was not an unqualified joy.  One man who now lives in Australia was rescued at age 6 and reunited with his father at age 13. Sadly, there was no emotional bond by then, because he’d found happiness with his foster family.  Minac estimates that there are almost 6000 people living today because of Nicky’s rescue missions.

Nicky’s Family will be screened at the Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival on Monday, March 26, 7 p.m.  It will be preceded by a dinner at 5:30 p.m. with Alison Pick, author of “Far To Go,” a novel about a Czechoslovakian Jewish family on the eve of World War II and the kindertransport rescue of their child.  The JCC is located at 335 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford.

For ticket information call (860) 231-6316 or (860) 236-4571, email, or visit

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