70 years after the horrors of Hitler and the Nazis came to an end, the world is still learning about some of the unlikely heroes who saved lives in that dark time. Such a man was Nicholas Winton, who died on Canada Day at the age of 106.
The connection to Canada’s birthday was appropriate, because one of the 670 children that he helped to save from the Holocaust was Joe Schlesinger who became a most wonderful reporter and storyteller on the CBC.
Sir Nicholas, as he became later in life, was a British banker. In November of 1938, when it became all too clear what Hitler had in mind for the Jews of Europe, Winton helped to recruit families in England who were prepared to accept young children who might otherwise have gone to the death camps.
Rather than feeling a sense of joy and relief about the 670 who were saved, Winton never got over the sorrow of the 250 children who perished after the war broke out in September of 39.
Do you know what Canada was doing when all this was going on? Nothing very noble I’m afraid. When it came to providing safe haven for the Jews of Europe, the policy of the government of Mackenzie King can be summed up in four ugly words – “None is Too Many”. That’s the title of a book written more than 30 years ago by Harold Troper and Irving Abella.
It described Canada’s shameful record, both before and immediately after the War. Frederick Blair was the vile anti-semite who was in charge of our immigration policy. Among other things, he persuaded the prime minister and his government to not even think about allowing the German liner St. Louis to land and discharge its Jewish passengers in Halifax in the summer of 1939. Cuba and the United States had already refused to accept the refugees. The ship was forced to return to Europe, and roughly one third of the 900 passengers eventually died in the death camps.
Thank heaven for the good guys, like Oscar Schindler, Raoul Wallenburg, and Nicholas Winton.
I’m Roger Currie