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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Nicky’s Family’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

4 Stars — Inspiring

Like buried treasure, Nicky's Family tells the remarkable story of a humanitarian hero of World War II that was hidden for a half-century.

Nicholas Winton, a British man with indomitable energy who had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1983 for his work establishing homes for the elderly, had a past life that when revealed in his late 70s ignited brigades of compassion on a global scale.

In November 1938, Winton was scheduled to embark on a ski vacation with a friend from Prague. Winton, who was only 29 at the time, had become a successful stockbroker in England, bucking the tides of the Great Depression and living "the good life."

His life changed overnight when his friend informed him that he was going to have to cancel their trip due to his need to help refugee children in Czechoslovakia. Joining his friend in Prague to offer his help, he was overwhelmed by the number of parents who came to plead with him each morning at his hotel breakfast table to help get their children out of the country before the pending doom of the Third Reich descended on them.

Winton took it upon himself to write letters to many countries, including the United States, to allow these children to immigrate, but to no avail. The only country that would respond was England.

Using his own funds and with the help of whomever he could solicit, Winton managed to arrange for the adoption of 669 children in nine months, and organized trainloads of kids who were transported from Prague, through Nazi Germany and eventually by boat to the British Isles. The last trainload of 250 children who were scheduled to leave in early September 1939 were turned back due to Adolf Hitler's launch of war, and as best as can be told, all of them eventually perished in concentration camps.

This remarkable but retching story lied dormant for over a half-century, when in 1988 Winton's wife found a scrapbook in the attic that contained detailed pictures and records of all of the children that her husband had spirited out of Czechoslovakia prior to the start of the war. She turned the scrapbook over to a reporter for the BBC who organized a television show on what Sir Nicholas Winton had done. Unbeknownst to him, in the audience that day were over two dozen of the children he had rescued. When they stood up, not only was Winton overwhelmed, but you as a viewer will be as well.

The miracle that Winton managed to pull off in 1939 turned into a second miracle in the final quarter-century of his life. His lightning of compassion struck twice and has ignited a firestorm of love and service in every part of the world. The telling and retelling of his story since 1988 by the more than 200 known living children of Winton's transports to England has resulted in over 5,000 children and youth throughout the world organizing projects of compassion that range from feeding the hungry in America to clothing the poor in southeast Asia, to building homes in Africa. One by one, an army of young volunteers has spread the word that one life can make a difference.

This is a story that should be told in every school, church, synagogue and service agency throughout the world. On his 100th birthday in 2009, children from all over the globe participated in singing and praising Winton for his unsung inspiration. A special train comprised of 1939 engines and train cars, along with a host of the now elderly children he saved, re-created the journey from Prague to England to commemorate his simple act of kindness that saved so many lives.

Now at 104 years of age, Winton is being promoted for the Nobel Peace Prize. His journey, as told in this remarkable documentary film by Matej Minac, is a must-see for you and your family.


» Although we know it to be true, the long effect of one act of compassion is seldom demonstrated as obviously as in this account. We can only imagine how the world would be changed 70 years from now if each of us showed similar compassion today. What could you do to change the world?

» The fact that Nicky chose to keep this quiet and not even sharing it with his wife demonstrates a deep level of humility. Yet to tell the story and inspire others allows him to become a model for further action. How do you modulate between the humility required in our acts of compassionate love and the modeling needed for others to be encouraged to engage?

» As a Jewish family who expressed their faith in God as Christians, Nicky was uniquely suited for this specific act of compassion. How has your family, education and position uniquely suited you? Are you using these cues as prompts for your own unique ministry?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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