[from The Guardian]
by David Cesarani
The death of Sir Nicholas Winton elicited eulogies from across British society. The prime minister tweeted: “The world has lost a great man. We must never forget his humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust.” The chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said Winton was “an outstanding role model for all”. The most heartfelt tributes came from survivors whose departure from Prague he helped to organise in the last months before the second world war.
Yet the chief rabbi at that time, Joseph Hertz, fulminated against evacuating Jewish children from Nazi-controlled lands only to place them in the homes of Christians. Winton arranged for at least 60 Jewish children, 10% of the total brought out of Prague, to be given into the care of the Barbican Mission, an organisation devoted to converting Jews to Christianity.
He saw nothing wrong with this and it may be germane to recall that he was a convert himself. He was born Nicholas Wertheim to German-Jewish parents who rejected Judaism. Decades later, when asked to comment on criticism from the Jewish community, he said: “I just confronted them and said in much politer terms, ‘Mind your own business … if you prefer a dead Jew to a Jew brought up in a Christian home it’s really not my problem’.” Today we would find it questionable to accept a change in religion in exchange for saving a life. But it was not self-evident that such a price was necessary even then.
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