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Film on “The Last Rescuer” of the Holocaust to be Shown at Moravian College
Panel Discussion with award-winning director, and surviving “Winton Children” to follow screening
Bethlehem, Pa., September 12, 2008—The award-winning documentary film, Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good, that tells the story of a 28-year old London stockbroker who provided entry visas to England for 669 Jewish children in 1939, during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, will be shown at Moravian College on Wednesday, September 17, at 6:30 p.m., in Prosser Auditorium, Haupert Union Building. A panel discussion will follow featuring some very special guests including the director of the film Matej Mináč, and two of the surviving “Winton Children,” Hannah Slome and George Korper, and Peter A. Rafaeli, Hon. Consul General of the Czech Republic (Philadelphia), and President of American Friends of Czech Republic (AFoCR). A reception with the panelists will follow in the HUB lounge. The public is welcome and admission is free of charge. Copies of Mináč’s book, Nicholas Winton’s Lottery of Life, will be given to the first 200 people who attend the program.
The film, which tells the story of the courage and determination of one man who in 1939 saved Czechoslovak Jewish children from the hands of the Nazis, received the 2002 International Emmy Award for Documentary from The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Winton who at age 98 was nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, did not tell anyone about his rescue mission for fifty years—not even his wife. In the film, Winton appears with a dozen of the children as Canadian CBC reporter Joe Schlesinger and film director Karel Reisz tell his story for the first time. Director Matej Mináč, a Slovakian Jew, calls Winton “the last rescuer,” comparable to Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, and wonders why no filmmaker before him was attracted to Winton's story. He had learned of Winton's role in his own survival by chance in "two tiny paragraphs" of a book called Pearls of Childhood by Vera Gissing, who had been one of Winton's children. When he talked to Gissing during the filming of All My Loved Ones, which is the story of his own family, he was surprised to find out that Winton was alive and in good health. He was able to obtain footage of the television interview and incorporate it into the feature film. Then he went back and made a full-length documentary about Winton's heroism.
Moravian College president Christopher M. Thomforde will moderate the panel discussion that will begin about 7:45 p.m. On the panel will be George Korper (birth name Jiri Koerper), who left Czechoslovakia in July of 1939 on the last of the Kinder Transports organized by Nicholas Winton. When the war broke out in September 1939, he was just 13 ½ years old. He thought the trip was a “big adventure.” Hanna Slome (birth name Hanna Beer) just turned 14 in May 1939, when she left home on the transport to England. Both “Winton Children” have remarkable stories to tell about their lives, which were forever changed by the actions of a benevolent stranger—Nicholas Winton. Joining the panel will be Peter Rafaeli, who initiated the Winton Educational Project.
Rafaeli translated the Czech educational book by Matej Minác, “Nicholas Winton’s Lottery of Life.” He established a fundraising program that has allowed for the books to be shared with educational institutions throughout the U.S., including Moravian College. Last fall, Rafaeli helped to organize a visit of 98-year old Sir Nicholas Winton to Prague. Winton met during this visit with the past and current Presidents of the Czech Republic, received the highest military honor from the Czech Minister of Defense and also met with 2700 student-admirers.
Convinced that war was imminent, Winton organized eight rescue missions in 1939 that took children from Prague, the capital of the former Czechoslovakia and the city soon to be occupied by the Nazis, to Great Britain. He also helped assure that the children were placed in foster homes until their parents could claim them. However, very few of the children ever saw their parents again, as the Jews of Czechoslovakia were largely destroyed in the concentration camps. The final train, carrying 250 children, was scheduled to leave on September 1, 1939, but never did. Hitler's troops invaded Poland that same day and the borders were closed. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. None of the children who were to have been on that final train were ever seen again.
Winton told no one of his actions for almost 50 years after the war. In the late 1990s, his wife, cleaning their attic as they prepared to move to a retirement home, found a box of passport applications and children's photographs. She asked him where they had come from, and only then did his heroic act become known.
In 1998, he was interviewed on BBC television, in front of an audience of his "children" who had been assembled secretly by the talk-show's producer. After Winton spoke in the most diffident terms about the three trainloads of children that he had sent from Prague, the interviewer asked if anyone in the audience had anything to add to his story. The audience members rose to their feet, overwhelming Winton began to cry as he hugged them. This poignant moment is shown in the epilogue to All My Loved Ones.
While at Moravian, Matej Minác will film a performance of the Moravian College Choir and interview President Thomforde for a follow-up film to the original documentary.
The program is sponsored by Moravian College Office of Institutional Diversity, and the President’s Office, and the Music Department. For more information, call 610-861-1491.
Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Visit the Web site at www.moravian.edu.