The Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame will be unveiled in ceremonies with 200 Rotary International members and their guests present at a 6 p.m. reception on Thursday, September 26 in the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie.
This is a project of the Lincolnshire Morning Star, Barrington Breakfast, Skokie Valley, Northbrook and Evanston Lighthouse Rotary clubs, said Alan Nerad, president of the Lincolnshire Club. Rotary members from throughout Illinois are expected to attend.
The first honoree to receive a plaque will be Sir Nicholas Winton, a 104 year old Englishman who in 1939 rescued Jewish Czech and Slovak children from their sure fate, Nazi death camps. The plaque will be formally unveiled at the beginning of the reception at 6 p.m.
An international award winning movie about Sir Winton titled Nicky’s Family, will be shown at 7:15 p.m. and will open to the public September 29 in the Gene Siskel Theatre in Chicago and on October 3 in the Wilmette Theatre.
Included in the film are the Dalai Lama and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor. Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger, one of the saved children, narrates the film.
Nicky’s original family of 669 saved children has grown through the decades to about 6,000 people who have achieved high recognition for their accomplishment. Two or more of the children he saved will be present and speak at this event.
The lifesaving deeds were not publicly known for more than a half century until Winton’s wife, Greta, going through a trunk in the attic of their home found his carefully documented detailed lifesaving work that included pictures of the children and letters from their parents.
Winton organized eight kindertransports taking children by train across Europe to England where he arranged for their future with caring families.
A ninth train was scheduled to leave with 250 children the day war began and could not depart on September 3, 1939. These children and six million more Jews perished under Nazi rule.
More than 200,000 petitions have been signed, including 120,000 by Czech children, and delivered by the children to the Nobel Prize Committee in Norway nominating Sir Winton for the Nobel Peace Prize. More petitions will be signed at the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame dedication.
Sir Winton was knighted March 11, 2003, by Queen Elizabeth and has received the highest military honor of the Czech government called The Cross of the 1st Class. Sir Winton has been widely recognized elsewhere for his brave and quiet work.
He often is called the English Oskar Schindler and compared with Raoul Wallenberg and Feng-Shan Ho who saved Jewish lives during the tragic Nazi years. The United States House of Representatives recognized him with House Bill 583.
The Rotary members arranging the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame said they have been told that Sir Winton is an inspiration, motivator and influences Czech and other children to perform good deeds. He is a member and former president of the Maidenhead Rotary Club in England.
Nerad said Rotary is taking applications to exhibit the names and accomplishments of worthy Rotary members to be enshrined in the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame. At a Rotary meeting, Sir Winton said, “Rotary means a great deal to me; it encapsulates the various principles by which I live.’”
At a Rotary function attended by Sir Winton, Lady Milena Grenville-Baines, one of the Czech children he saved, said to the audience, “In 1939, as you scrambled to save hundreds of lives, Nicholas you wrote in a letter:
‘There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one’s time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out, finding, and helping those who are suffering and in danger, and not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.’”
Lady Milena told the Rotary delegates at the meeting that when she arrived at the English Liverpool Street Station, in 1939, she had her permit and the list of children on her train.
Sir Winton enjoys flying. At age 99 he flew in a micro light plane at the White Waltham Airfield in Berkshire, UK. Judy Leden, a world champion hang-glider and micro light pilot whose mother was saved by him, flew to the airport from, Derbyshire to take Sir Winton on a flight which became an annual tradition.
Wiesel, who has dedicated his life so that people will never forget the Holocaust, received his Nobel Prize for writing.
He wrote: “In these times there was darkness everywhere. In heaven and on earth, all the gates of compassion seemed to have been closed. The killer killed and the Jews died and the outside world adopted an attitude either of complicity or of indifference. Only a few had the courage to care.”
For more information please call Alan Nerad at 224/388-9971 or Dan Friedlander at 847/855-6444 or go to the website www.peacehalloffame.org. Call Dan Friedlander for contact information with the people Sir Winton saved.