Originally published on 04.12.2018 by ELIZABETH
In honor of Sir Nicholas Winton
Sometimes (maybe more often), we have a bad day. Maybe we have a bad week. And honestly, sometimes we have a bad year. Yes, a whole freaking year. Sh*t happens. Life is unpredictable. If I have a bad [insert time period], the natural instinct is to complain, give up, and wallow in the sadness or anger.
And it can be over the dumbest thing! Maybe I spilled my coffee and stained my shirt. Maybe the store was out of blank. Like stupid sh*t. And then other times, it’s more severe stuff that weighs on me mentally — relationships or personal matters.
And in those deeper moments, I force myself to step back and ask this: how bad is it? In the grand scheme of life, is this really that bad? And maybe my answer is still yes because emotions are still raw and I’m too close to the problem. And I just have the type of personality (stubbornness) where my being just cannot physically forgive and forget sometimes. Because I take everything to heart. That’s just who I am.
So, if my answer is still yes, that this emotional thing is still my “end of the world” situation at the moment, then I need to check myself. I need to change my lens and look at this at a greater scale. A world scale, if you will. Unfortunately, we have an abundance of horrible things going on in the world today or historically to choose from. Pick any one. Pick something that REALLY speaks to you, that you feel most connected to, and learn more about it.
When deep down I know I need to press reset on my idea of reality, I turn to one of the most meaningful, most mentally sobering topics for me: The Holocaust. And my whole perspective on life shifts.
MY SECOND HOME
I’ve mentioned in the past that my family is very important to me obviously and therefore, my cultural background is very important to me because the two go together. This time I’m not talking about being Russian, I’m talking about being Jewish.
While everyone went off to Jewish overnight summer camps like Camp Chi, my parents shipped me away to Israel to spend 5 weeks with my grandparents and my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Literally, I was 10 years old the first time I flew by myself. I had flown there before but this would be my first time flying alone.
Like a big girl, I got off the plane, had some flight attendant escort me (basically babysit me) through baggage claim and customs, after which I’d walk through magical sliding doors and get to see the cheering, smiling faces of my relatives.
Israel is my second home. When my family asks me where I want to go on vacation, my answer is never the beaches of Florida or sunny LA; every single time I say Israel. When I’m there, it’s the best mental cleanse I could ever ask for, the best warm feeling that I could ever get. It’s a special place for anyone, but for me, it’s my little slice of heaven. My sanctuary. Truth: I’ve never felt safer anywhere else like I do in Israel. Little kids are out and about unsupervised at all hours of the day and night. Young men and women soldiers are casually walking on sidewalks with humongous automatic rifles. And no violence. That’s normal there.
And I have such fond memories of staying at my grandparents’ place, cooking with my grandma and singing with my grandpa. He would cut Russian song lyrics out of the newspaper and give them to me to keep and make cassettes that I could take back to Chicago with me. I still have them to this day. Heck, I even have fond memories of taking 2–3 minute showers because the hot water would run out. And we’d have to wait for it to heat up again. This was normal. Hot water used to be a luxury there.
I am reminded of the importance and meaning that Israel holds for me often with holidays, family, social events and Shabbat dinners. But this specific day is special and it’s deep. Yesterday eve/today is Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. And it is one of the most moving and beautiful commemorations the way the Israelis do it. I’ve actually never been there physically on this day, but I’ve talked to my family about it. And I’ve read and seen some amazing footage of the moment of silence that is held.
And keep in mind, Israelis are like NYC drivers on steroids. I’ve never seen anything like it. People don’t stop for anything and people are always busy and on the go. But at 10:00 am on this special day, sirens are sounded, and every single car, motorcyclist or scooterist, no matter how fast they are going — and they go fast — will stop their car, either on the side of the road or literally in the middle of the highway, get out and pay their respects to the six million Jews that died in the Holocaust. You’ll literally never see this anywhere else in the world. Watch it. Or watch this. The entire country literally stops. Everyone. Everywhere. Reflects and respects.
It makes me tear up because the Holocaust is something that is very close to my heart. For many reasons. But I’ve spent so much time watching videos, reading, and researching it out of pure personal interest. And it’s at the top of my list as far as topics go that teaches me to be grateful when I forget. It’s all about perspective.
HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR VIDEOS
I think I’ve watched every possible Holocaust survivor video posted on Youtube five times over. They never get old to me. They’re all so unique. And when you hear about what these people have seen, and at SUCH a young age, it’s just pure power, and will, and determination, and just appreciation for the little things that make these people so extraordinary. There really are no words to describe their mental strength that would do it justice.
And then a few years back, while I was doing my usual video surfing, I came across the most amazing heart-wrenching story. Not about a survivor, but about somebody that made it possible for other Jews to call themselves survivors. If you don’t know who the man in the picture is, you will now.
SIR NICHOLAS WINTON
At least read his Wikipedia page when you have a chance. Or watch this short 15 min video. People of this caliber come around maybe 5–10 times per lifetime. This man is in the company with the likes of the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, or Oskar Schindler. In fact, Nicky Winton is sometimes referred to as the “British Schindler.”
His story blew me away. And every time I watch the above video, I cry. Every. Single. Time. And I think I’ve watched it AT LEAST 30 times. Here’s a little summary of his story:
He was a successful 29-year old stockbroker living the good life in Britain
He vacationed in Czechoslovakia for two weeks, and in those two weeks essentially constructed a plan and started an organization that would help get Jewish children away from the Nazis
Jewish families came to Winton while he was there pleading for him to bring their children to safety even if it meant being separated from them for some time. Most of those children never saw their parents again, because they passed away in Auschwitz
Britain allowed this motion to take in the children only if they were under 17
Winton wrote a letter to the US president, Roosevelt, but America denied entrance
Winton, literally a one-man show with a few volunteers, orchestrated trains and boats to transfer SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE SAFELY to Britain. He actually had another train planned to leave that held 250 more children but that day the Nazis were in the final phase of their plan to destroy all Jews and did not allow that train to leave. It is believed those children later died in Auschwitz
**Bonus** This is literally the craziest thing: Nobody, not even the children (they didn’t know who saved them), or Winton’s wife, knew about this for FIFTY years. That’s right. FIVE decades. Nicky just made a scrapbook about it and kept it in the attic for his memory, until one day his wife came across it. She was the one to bring it to a journalist, who then finally reached out to the survivors to get their stories
BBC did an amazing segment on him in the 80s where he unknowingly would come on the show to meet many of the children he saved — he started crying. Ugh that footage kills me every time
It’s just. I’m just. Speechless. It’s literally impossible to understand. I’ve let it sink in multiple times and every time, it just leaves me speechless. Nicky. The kids. How one man, one, could save that many kids, that went on to have their own kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, is nothing short of a miracle. And he did it for no other reason than just to do the right thing out of the goodness of his heart. You want Perspective? This story will give you some.
There are just these EXTRAORDINARY souls. People that can do EXTRAORDINARY things that walk among us. They’re not afraid of anything and they follow the right path. They are inherently saint-like in almost every way. They are driven by just being a good person and doing the right thing. And they want nothing in return. No recognition, no money, no validation, they are just purely grateful to help.
And I’ve written about this concept before but it just takes one. It takes one person to change someone else’s life, your life, my life, 669 people’s lives, the world. Lastly, I’ll leave you with Nicky’s motto: “I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Thank you, Nicky Winton.