Have you ever heard of Nicholas (“Nicky”) Winton? Me neither. That was before I attended a screening of Nicky’s Family, at the UJA Federation in New York on July 16th. The movie is about Nicky, and why he is otherwise known as the English Oskar Schindler. Like Schindler, Nicky saved lives — that of 669 Czech and Slovak children just before and during World War II. Seeing that movie made me realize we all are, in some sense, in Nicky’s family. So what? Well, maybe his story will cast doubt on the selfish gene theory that many economists rely on in their rational choice models. At least that’s what I thought when I saw the movie.
Before the war, Nicky, now 104 years old, was a successful stockbroker in London. He traveled when he wanted. He ate what we wanted. He didn’t really have a concern in the world. So he was the perfect character in a story who would have had an interest in doing nothing at the sight of other people’s suffering.
After learning about the pending doom that Jewish Czech and Slovak children would face under German rule when he took a ski trip to Europe, Nicky started a campaign to have English families adopt Jewish children. When some Rabbis in England complained to Nicky that the children would be going to non-Jewish families, his response: “that’s your problem!”
The screening of the movie, which was chaired by Sanders/Long partner Adam R. Sanders, made me question the self-interested rational choice models that so many economists use. Nicky had everything to lose by helping the children. His only gain was the feeling of seeing that he had an impact on each child in need. And that he did. The movie shows that some 200 of the saved children have been found, and shows their grandchildren, too. Not only that, but Nicky has motivated a whole new generation of people who are trying to make an impact on the world — one child at a time.
Nicky Winton — arriving just in the Nick of time.