Film on Jewish kids' rescue from 1939 Prague to hit cinemas

20th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A documentary on the rescue of 669 Jewish children from prewar Czechoslovakia by a British man dubbed the "English Schindler" premiered in Prague Thursday before hitting cinemas on February 3.

The premiere of "Nicky's Family" was attended by the 101-year-old Sir Nicholas Winton, who arranged for the children to be hosted by British families and negotiated their departure with the occupying Nazi Germans between March and September 1939.

"It gives an indication to the future. I don't think it helps to look in the past," Winton said about his story to a hall full of young people taking part in an educational project inspired by the rescue and spanning 17 countries.

Winton has been called the "English Schindler," in reference to Oskar Schindler, whose rescue of hundreds of Jews in wartime Poland was immortalised in Steven Spielberg's film "Schindler's List."

Winton's story only came to light by chance 50 years later when his wife found papers relating to it in a battered briefcase in his attic.

Over 100,000 Czech children have signed a petition for Winton to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

"The story has an immense energy. When we travelled the world, we could see how it is passed on to the young generation which asks what it can do to make the world different," said film producer Patrik Pass.

The filmmakers produced 500 hours of film material and visited 20 countries to talk to the "Winton children," some of whom attended the premiere in Prague. Up to now, 261 of the 669 have been traced.

"Many of the Winton children who are alive do not know the story. We're looking for them," said the film's Slovak director Matej Minac, whose documentary "Nicholas Winton - The Power of Good" won the International Emmy Award in 2002.

In one scene -- one of a few using actors to illustrate the atmosphere -- a mother has to decide whether to leave a weeping child on the train or whether to take her back home.

"We met a woman, a Winton child, in Washington, and she said it was her sister's story... it was like 'Sophie's Choice'," said Minac, referring to the William Styron novel set during the Holocaust.

And, recalling a moment from the shooting, he added: "Everybody was moved, everybody started to cry, and I could suddenly see the scene had mystically returned, because this is what it must have been like on the platform all those 70 years ago."

Nazi Germany seized former Czechoslovakia in March 1939, less than six months after having carved off a swathe of its territory, and six months before the outbreak of World War II.

© 2011 AFP

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