(JTA) — In a 1988 episode of the British television show “That’s Life,” British stockbroker Nicholas Winton was invited to sit in the audience as host Esther Rantzen dramatically revealed to him that the entire crowd was composed of the Jewish children — now adults — he had saved during the Holocaust.
That tear-jerking clip periodically goes viral on social media, but now, Winton’s story is coming to bigger screens — in a dramatic film, “One Life,” where he is portrayed by two-time Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins.
Hopkins was the casting choice of Winton’s daughter, who died as it was being filmed, seven years after her father. Already, the movie has ignited criticism — and swift revision — over promotional materials that did not include language about the children’s Jewish identities. The full story about the film’s subject is even more complex, with connections to Ghislaine Maxwell, a gold ring, the Talmud and of course the tragic saga of European Jewry.
Winton’s role in that saga was hardly assured. Born to German-Jewish parents in London in 1909, Winton (originally “Wertheim”) was baptized into the Anglican Church, and as an adult, never subscribed to any religion.
At 29, he was a stockbroker planning to ski in Switzerland with friends when his travel partner, schoolteacher Martin Blake called and said the trip was off — he was heading to Prague instead.
“I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help,” Winton recalled Blake saying. “Come as soon as you can. And don’t bother bringing your skis.”
Blake was working with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, an organization established to save Jews and other minority groups targeted by the Nazis in the recently-annexed Sudetenland.
But it was the appeal of a Czech Jewish social worker and activist, Marie Schmolka, that ultimately brought Winton into the Czech Kindertransport-inspired project organized by British university lecturer Doreen Warriner. Schmolka, who is not often mentioned in accounts of Winton’s efforts and is not portrayed in the movie, had visited the areas where refugees were concentrated and collected evidence to garner public support, pleading to foreign ambassadors based in Prague and to Jewish agencies abroad, hoping someone would take them in. But Britain would only take unaccompanied children.
For the first three weeks of Jan. 1939, Winton mostly worked out of a hotel in Prague, coordinating and collecting applications from parents seeking homes for their children outside of Czechoslovakia. He also took photographs of the children, which he later said was more persuasive for prospective families than a mere list of names.
Back in Britain, still working his job at the stock exchange, Winton and his assistants and his mother fundraised, collected or forged the children’s travel documents, and also placed advertisements in newspapers to find them foster homes.
On March 14, 1939, the day before Nazi Germany invaded the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia, the first of eight trains containing 699 children, mostly Jewish, headed to Britain. A ninth train was scheduled to depart on Sept. 3, but was halted — Germany had invaded Poland two days earlier, officially starting the war, and the borders were closed. None of the approximately 250 children on that train are known to have survived.
Early in the war, he worked for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver in France and in England during the London Blitz, later joining the Royal Air Force training pilots and documenting the destruction he saw with his photography. In the years after the war, he joined the International Refugee Organization, working on the repatriation of Nazi-looted goods.
His work with the children went unnoticed for decades. Then, in the late 1980s, Winton’s wife Grete Gjelstrup discovered a scrapbook in the attic with the children’s names and photos, as well as letters written by their parents.
“I suppose there are quite a number of things that husbands don’t tell their wives,” Winton told Matej Minac, who directed several films about his story.
Gjelstrup brought the book to Holocaust historian Elizabeth Maxwell, the wife of media magnate Robert Maxwell (also the parents of Ghislaine Maxwell, sentenced to prison over her role in Jeffrey Epstein’s sex abuse ring) who brought Winton’s story of saving the hundreds of children to the press, and eventually, to “That’s Life!” where he met some of the children he saved.
Winton was nicknamed “the British Schindler” after German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. More than 6,000 children and grandchildren of the Czech Kindertransport owe their lives to Nicholas Winton, according to “One Life,” the 2014 book written by his daughter and biographer, Barbara Winton, which inspired the film. (The book was originally called “If It’s Not Impossible.”) Some of their descendants appear as extras in the “That’s Life!” scene.
Upon giving permission for a film adaptation of her book, Barbara Winton made one request of the project: cast Hopkins as her father.
Barbara Winton gave the filmmakers access to her father’s letters and other archival materials.
She died in September 2022, while “One Life” was still filming.
“One Life” is a reference to a paraphrased quote from the Mishnah: “Save one life, save the world,” which was inscribed in a gold ring presented to Winton in 1988 at a Holocaust conference organized by Elizabeth Maxwell at Oxford by some of the children he saved. Winton wore the ring for the rest of his life.
The quote is also referenced in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film “Schindler’s List” in a scene where, at the end of the war, the Jews Schindler saved give him a gold ring made from their dental fillings inscribed with a nearly identical quote as a parting gift. The real ring, according to Jozef Gross, the jeweler who created it, did not have an inscription.
Controversy arose in early January when the film’s promotional materials in the United Kingdom failed to mention that the majority of the children in danger were Jewish. Instead, some marketing materials referred to the children as “Central European.”
After social media backlash, IMDb, the Warner Bros. U.K. website, and British theater chain Vue have all changed their summary of the film to read “predominantly Jewish.”
The National Portrait Gallery in London, which was running a series of portraits of children saved by Winton as an accompaniment to the film, also changed the text in its description.
“Our Gallery’s curatorial team made this update to the website copy to better reflect the identity of the individuals who traveled on the Kindertransport,” a representative from the National Portrait Gallery wrote in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The original copy assumed that this was implicit, given the nature of the digital exhibition, however, following feedback, we felt it was important to clarify this.”
The film has another Jewish angle to it as well — actress Helena Bonham Carter, who is of Jewish descent, plays Winton’s mother, Babette Wertheim.
“It was in my DNA to play this role because I come from Austrian Jewish heritage,” Bonham Carter told the Jewish News of London. “And on top of that, on both sides, both my grandparents helped a lot of Jewish people with visas to get out of Nazi Europe.”
Bonham Carter called Winton a hero, and said the most important part of the film was to make sense of him, “what made this man, this exceptional man, so modest, do the most extraordinary things,” she said.
Nicholas Winton died in 2015 at the age of 106.
Despite going decades without recognition for his heroism during the war, the later years of his life were filled with honors and awards. Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 for his efforts during the war, and he received the Order of the White Lion, the highest order from the Czech Republic in 2014. He even had a minor planet named after him.
Still, he insisted for years that his work was not heroic.
“I was never in any danger,” Winton told a British newspaper in 2011. “I took on a big task, but did it from the safety of my home in Hampstead.”
French Government Will Hold Commemoration for Victims of Hamas Pogrom Amid Disquiet Over Far Left Party’s Participation
French President Emmanuel Macron will preside over a special ceremony on Wednesday to commemorate the French victims of the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas pogrom in Israel as a row over the potential presence of far left parliamentarians continues to fester.
A statement from the Elysée Palace on Monday confirmed Macron’s presence at Wednesday’s event, which will take place at Les Invalides in Paris, where the French National Assembly and other leading national institutions are based.
A spokeswoman for Macron’s office pointed out that 42 French citizens were among the more than 1,200 people murdered during the Hamas assault, with a further three still being held hostage in Gaza.
Answering a question from a reporter about whether a similar event would be held for French citizens killed during the IDF bombing of Gaza that followed the assault, she added that a separate memorial ceremony would be held at a date yet to be determined. “It is obvious that we owe the same emotion and the same dignity to the French victims of the bombings in Gaza, and this tribute will be paid to them at another time,” she said. It is not clear how many French passport holders have actually been killed since the French government announced the deaths of two Palestinian children who were French citizens on Oct. 31.
Wednesday’s ceremony will unfold “under the universal sign of the fight against anti-Semitism and through it, all forms of hatred, racism and oppression against minorities,” the official statement from the presidency declared. Each of the murdered victims will be commemorated through the display of a photograph with their name attached. Families of the victims will be present, many of them being flown in from Israel on a special flight chartered by the French government.
The event is already mired in controversy due the announcement of parliamentarians from the far left La France Insoumise (LFI -“France Rising”) that they plan to attend. LFI has been vocal in its support of Palestinians in Gaza, frequently drawing accusations of antisemitism because of its harsh rhetoric. Earlier this month, the daughter of two LFI MPs was arrested for allegedly antisemitic social media posts in the weeks following the Hamas attack, while another LFI MP faced condemnation over a posting on social media that invoked a popular Japanese manga meme appropriated by antisemites.
In a letter to Macron, members of five of the victims families demanded a ban on the participation of LFI MPs.
“We, families of victims of Hamas terrorists, solemnly demand that any presence of LFI at the national tribute that will be paid to the 42 Franco-Israeli victims of 7/10 be prohibited,” the letter stated.
However, that request is unlikely to be granted. Pointing out that parliamentarians are automatically invited to state-organized ceremonies, Macron’s office stated that “It is up to everyone to assess the appropriateness or not of their presence since the families spoke out and expressed strong emotion,” but notably did not accede to the ban request.
Mathilde Panot, the head of the LFI deputies in the National Assembly, said last week that she planned to attend the ceremony.
“I will be present and I have asked that a tribute be paid to all the French victims of this war in the Middle East, including the Franco-Palestinians killed in Gaza by the Israeli army,” she said.
Montana Tucker “Bring Them Home” Grammy Tribute for Israeli Hostages Turns Heads
Jewish singer and songwriter Montana Tucker showed her support for Israelis still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza at Sunday night’s 66th Annual Grammy Awards, an annual ceremony held to honor the record industry’s most critically acclaimed artists.
Posing for photographers, Tucker walked the red carpet clad in a beige, diaphanous corset gown ornamented with a yellow ribbon that said, “Bring Them Home.” She also wore a Star of David necklace.
136 Israeli hostages remain imprisoned by Hamas in Gaza. They have been there since Oct. 7, when the terrorist organization committed a massacre of Jews across the southern region of Israel, the deadliest mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas’ fighters brutally murdered and rape hundreds, and according to numerous reports, more are being sexually abused in captivity.
Tucker’s wasn’t the only statement made about the Israel-Hamas war. Ann Lennox, Scottish vocalist of the popular 1980s band Eurythmics — most known for its No. 1 song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — called for a ceasefire in Gaza in a speech delivered after she performed a tribute to Sinéad O’Connor.
Raising a “Black Power” fist before a much larger audience than Tucker was accorded, Lennox proclaimed, “Artists for a ceasefire. Peace in the world.”
Lennox was alluding to “Artists4Ceasefire,” a small group of entertainers who issued a letter calling on President Joe Biden to “end the bombing of Gaza” that did not mention that Hamas started the war or condemn rising antisemitism. The letter’s signatories include, among other B-list celebrities, Adam Lambert — who in 2009 won second place in the now-discontinued television series American Idol — Jennifer Lopez, Rosie O’Donnell, and Alyssa Milano.
The Algemeiner honored Montana Tucker in 2022 for being one of 100 people recognized for positively influencing Jewish life. A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Tucker was dogged all her life by assertions that she does not “look Jewish.” Undeterred by the remarks, she committed to proudly representing the Jewish community, and in 2022 produced “How To: Never Forget,” a ten-part docuseries about her grandparents lives in Poland before the Nazi invasion.
“This has been my responsibility to do this, for me and my grandparents and everyone else,” Tucker said at the time, during an interview. “People are used to seeing my very light-hearted, fun dance videos and me collaborating with a lot of different people…It’s rare for me and my content, and rare for the platform in general, to have a docuseries on the Holocaust.”
Other pro-Israel activists wore apparel to the Grammy awards to show. Orthodox Rabbi-Rapper Moshe Reuven, whose song “You Are Not Alone” has amassed over one million streams on Spotify, sported a “Never Is Now” shirt distributed through partnership between civil rights nonprofit StandWithUs and Perspective Fitwear. The shirt’s designer is Karen Margolis.
Taylor Swift’s 2022 record, titled Midnights, won “Album of the Year,” and rapper Jay-Z implied during a speech for accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award that his wife, multi-platinum artists and most-winning Grammy award winner ever Beyoncé, has never won “Album of the Year” because she is a Black woman. The moment was reminiscent of a 2009 incident in which Kanye West stormed the stage of the MTV Awards to denounce Swift’s winning “Best Video by a Female Artist.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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Israeli Bank Shutter Accounts of Settlers Sanctioned By Biden
The Israeli bank accounts of two of the Israelis sanctioned by the United States government last week were closed on Sunday and Monday. Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against the action, saying “I will take action as the finance minister and do what I must. If need be, we’ll advance legislation on the matter.” He further called the instance “unthinkable” that it occurred.
The two Israelis, Yinon Levi and David Chai Chasdai, had their personal and business accounts closed by Bank Leumi and Bank Hadoar, respectively. The other two settlers listed bank with Bank Hapoalim, who also said they would close the accounts, saying “Bank Hapoalim respects the international sanctions and will comply with any legal order.”
The Bank of Israel announced their support for the move, saying “Banking corporations, by necessity of their international activities, are required to establish policies and procedures for the use of international sanctions lists and national sanctions lists of foreign countries and for entering into or carrying out operations with parties declared on such lists. Circumvention of sanctions regimes as mentioned, has the effect of exposing the banking corporations to significant risks, among them, compliance risks, money laundering and terrorist financing risks, legal risks and reputational risks.”
Chasdai, who denies any wrongdoing, said “The fact that a government bank decides in the middle of a bright day to seize the bank accounts of settlers solely because of pressure from extreme leftist organizations and a hostile American government is unimaginable, but the fact that this is happening under the tenure of a right-wing government just after the greatest massacre in the country’s history is a national disgrace first class.”
“We have gone through many oppressors who harmed the people of Israel over the generations, we will also go through the persecution of Biden and his aides,” he added.
US President Joe Biden approved the sanctions last week, saying “The situation in the West Bank – in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction – has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability in the region.”
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