A detective story: a school project to find Jewish children rescued from Prague in 1939

22-12-2003

Many Radio Prague listeners will be familiar with the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, the British man in Prague who managed to save 669 Jewish children at the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1939, by getting them visas to Britain. For nearly 50 years, Sir Nicholas - now 94 - told no-one about what he'd done, not even his own wife. When the story finally emerged, it was made into an award-winning film called "The Power of Good". A DVD of the film has just been released for schools, containing more than an hour of extra material which could help to track down four hundred of Sir Nicholas's "children" whose fate since their rescue has remained unknown. David Vaughan has been speaking to the film's director, Matej Minac, and also two of the people Nicholas Winton rescued - Eva Krusinova and Alice Klimova, about the project, which aims to involve Czech schoolchildren in the hunt.

Matej Minac: "The final aim would be that these children, like Sherlock Holmes would be detectives and would look for more than 400 hundred children around the world who are still not identified and don't even know that they are Winton's children. So we think it's such a challenging project."

Are there any clues as to where they might be?

Matej Minac: "You know, we have just shown at this press conference that it's very probable that many of them went to South America. So they must find a way to do it."

So what you are going to do is to encourage children to explore, use the internet and various other methods to look for some of these people.

Matej Minac: "It's a little bit of a bonus, because the principle aim is of course that they would learn about the story and they would get interested in the modern history of this region, but I know that for young people it's always good to put some challenge ahead of them, so they can do something incredible. So that's this challenge."

I'm also joined by two of the children who were rescued by Nicholas Winton, Eva Krusinova and Alice Klimova. Do you think that people know about the fates of families like your own - of Jewish families during the war - or do you think this is something that is not really grasped by young people today?

Alice Klimova, Matej Minac, Eva KrusinovaAlice Klimova, Matej Minac, Eva Krusinova Alice Klimova: "I'm sure it isn't. Lots of people don't know, they're not interested because it didn't concern them and they have no idea. It's only when they talk to people like us that they're surprised that anything like this happened during the war. I'm not talking about Sir Nicholas Winton, but everything that happened during the war. I would like to add something also to what Matej Minac was talking about - finding the children. Lots of children didn't have an idea how they got to England. I came across somebody who came out as a four or six-year-old child, and she was surprised that she was on the list. A few months ago I came across someone I knew in England during the war. He was in the army and I only learnt now that he was also on the transport. And he was sixteen years old. He didn't know about it. So it's not a question of age, but the children had no idea themselves how they got out."

How important do you think it is for today's children to hear these stories again, to hear what happened?

Eva Krusinova: "I think it's a surprise for them, but I don't know that many of them will understand what it was like. You see, they haven't lived through all those years in Czechoslovakia, from '39 to '45, and afterwards from '45 later on. If the parents didn't find time to explain to them or to say something about it, I think it won't make any impression on them."

Alice Klimova: "Well it depends how it's presented to them. That's I think very important. And I wouldn't call it only a question of the Holocaust, but also - as is in the film - what can be done if somebody sets his mind to do some good, to be tolerant, to help each other. I think that's the most important message."

22-12-2003