Today I want to resurface an article I originally wrote a few years ago.
I’m hearing so many people express feelings of defeat and despair, that they feel they have no agency to make a difference in a world victimized by huge corporate cartels, government overreach or climate instability.
To offer a candle of hope against that feeling of powerlessness, I want to remind folks that one person can indeed make a tremendous difference, even in the darkest of times:
Never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.
~ R. Buckminster Fuller
Few people embody being “that one person” better than Nicholas Winton.
Never heard of him? Neither had I until a few years ago. But he’s now a hero of mine.
Winton was a British citizen who rescued nearly 670 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia during World War Two.
He did this of his own accord, not as part of any state agency or organized movement. Initially on a skiing trip to Switzerland, he canceled his vacation after Kristallnacht and went to Prague to help a friend there who was working to support the local Jewish population. Having learned that Britain’s Parliament had recently voted to accept European war refugees provided they had a place to stay and could pay a £50 deposit, Winton began single-handly relocating Czech Jewish children to safety in his home country.
Before the Nazis tightened their control on Czechoslovakia, Winton managed to put 669 children on trains to the Netherlands, from where they were then sent to homes of foster families in Britain that he (and his mother) had found for them.
Tragically, after their children departed to safety, many of the biological parents left behind ultimately ended up perishing at Auschwitz.
Winton sought no fanfare for his heroism. He spoke so rarely of it that the general public had no idea what he had done until nearly 50 years later. His own wife (whom he married after the war) didn’t even know until she one day came across the ledger he had used to keep track of the children during the evacuation.
Once she realized the magnitude of what this quiet hero had done, she worked with a television producer on a TV special to recognize him publicly for his humanitarian effort. By this time, Winton was an elderly man.
He agreed to attend, embarrassed by the attention. And unbeknownst to him, the producers had tracked down one of the children he had rescued, now an adult, and seated her next to him throughout the evening. It wasn’t until the end of the ceremony that they announced to him who she was. Watching Winton realize that the smiling woman next to him had been able to live a long, happy life because of his courageous action all those years ago is a very tender moment.
And if that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, what happens next should. The host then asks the audience “Is there anyone else here who owes their life to this man?”… and EVERYONE stands up. Turns out, they had packed the theater with his former rescued children, now in their 50s and 60s, each of whom was saved by this kind, humble man:
We rarely get to witness such a moment of grace like this. It’s simply perfect.
For me, it’s a reminder never to discount the impact our own individual acts can have.
Winton certainly answered Fuller’s call to “be that one person” to make a difference in the world.
Will each of us?