CAPSULE: Nicholas Winton, like Raoul Wallenberg, found himself in a country under Nazi oppression while the German military was murdering Jews. He arranged papers to allow Jewish children to be taken into Britain and adopted. Matej Minac directs and co-writes the story of Winton and the children whose lives he saved. It includes the poignant bittersweet stories of parents who gave up their children to save their children's lives. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Matej Minac directs and co-writes with Patrik Pass a documentary, with dramatized portions and extensive interviews, telling the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, who at the beginning of WWII, arranged to save the lives of 669 children from the German invaders of Czechoslovakia.
There have been now several films of those heroes who risked their position, their fortunes, and often their lives to save large numbers of Jews and other victims who would otherwise have been ground under the Nazi heel during the Holocaust. Some names are familiar: Raoul Wallenberg, Oscar Schindler, Chiune Sugihara, Varian Fry. Sadly, by the time these people's contributions to human decency are recognized, to many of them are no longer with us. This is not surprising since these people did what they did as adults seventy years ago. One of the delights of NICKY'S FAMILY is discovering that Sir Nicholas George Winton--called the "British Schindler,"--is alive and apparently spry at 104 years of age.
This film tells the story of Winton and of 663 children, mostly Jewish, whom Winton saved in winter of 1938-9. He did this by arranging for transport and entry into Britain, part of the Kindertransport mission. Winton was in Czechoslovakia as the Holocaust was ramping up. He saw that while no country but Britain was allowing in more than a handful of refugees, Britain's House of Commons had set up not quotas but conditions for allowing in refugee children. The difference was crucial. Winton created an organization, made of just himself, to aid parents trying to find safe havens for their children. Parents were frantic to give their children over to Winton's custody in the desperate effort to give the children a means of survival they could not share.
Primarily the story is given by eyewitness testimony, mostly from people whose lives were saved. Amateur and professional film recreating those times accompanies this testimony. There is also dramatization of incidents in Winton's rescue. The film shows us the children's lives in Czechoslovakia before the invasion of the Germans, and then the painful story of what happened to these children when faced with Nazi persecution and murder. We are shown in dramatizations Nicholas Winton disobeying his supervisors to work to save refugees. We are told what happened when the children were shipped by train and boat to England. Here the tone again lightens and we see the children adapting and living far better lives in England.
It was an interesting approach to shift the focus of the action from Eastern Europe to Britain. The real and horrifying drama was not in the fate of these children, but in that of their parents, most of whom were going to their deaths. The horror of the situation is exemplified by a mother who as the children's train was pulling out of the station had her child handed from the train into her arms only to realize moments later that she was condemning her own child to death and at the last moment handing the child back through the window. It was a last-minute decision to spare her child the death that was awaiting her herself.
The story of what is happening to the parents might have been more dramatic, but Minac keeps the camera eye on the children and their reaction to the British environment so alien to the lives they have known. Minac keeps the film to ninety minutes to avoid becoming ponderous. The children adapt. Flash forward to 1988 and Winton's actions and heroism finally become more generally known. Winton himself never mentioned the children he had saved. We move forward to the children today living in England but who never knew that it was Winton who saved their lives. Where Stephen Spielberg in SCHINDLER'S LIST was content just to show the large number of people alive because of Oskar Schindler, Minac goes beyond to show what the people who owe their lives to Winton are doing with those lives.
NICKY'S FAMILY is not as dismal as other stories from Holocaust documentaries. There are many positive notes as well as the welcome difference that the hero in question is still alive so we can see Winton brought together with the then children he saved. And Sir Nicholas Winton deserves all the adulation he gets. I rate NICKY'S FAMILY a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1961438/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nickys_family_2011/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper