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March 26, 2024 38 mins

Sir Nicholas 'Nicky' Winton was a young London stockbroker who visited Prague in December of 1938 where he discovers a large population of refugees fleeing the Nazis - and he knew he must do something, at least for the children. 

Back in London, Nick spent months arranging for foster families, passports, and documentation that would usher hundreds of children to safety... 669 children! 50 years later his story came to light in a remarkable way. Nick Winton lived his 106 years humbly, with the idea that service to others isn't a calling, it's simply what one does.

Today, his son, Nick Winton, Jr., a soft-spoken, compassionate, storyteller joins us to talk about his dad and the film "One Life", starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, that is in theaters now. You'll be so moved! ~ Delilah 

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
We are approaching the end of March, my friend, We've
had a few sweet, mild, lamb like days where I
live the kind of day where you have to step outside,
turn your face to the sun, breathe deep, stretch and
feel profoundly fortunate. For well, everything spring does that to you.

(00:31):
It fills your heart with hope. It energizes you for
tasks as of yet unknown but would certainly lie ahead. Hope, hope.
Sometimes it's all we have, and you know what, it's
really all we need. Today's episode of love, someone is
going to be full of hope and the story of

(00:52):
a man that held onto it despite the most desperate
of circumstances. Nicki Winton was a young London stockbroker who
visited Prague in December of nineteen thirty eight. There he
discovers a large population of refugees who have fled the Nazis.

(01:14):
During his brief visit to Prague, he was moved by
the side of families living in unsanitary conditions, unsheltered and
ill prepared for the harsh winter conditions, and he knew
he must do something. He must do something, at least
for the children. Nicky went and manages to convince those

(01:38):
involved with the British Committee for Refugees in Czechoslovakia to
help him get as many children as possible to safety
before the inevitable Nazi occupation closes the borders. He set
to the task of compiling a list of children needing
to be rescued and returning to Britain, worked to fulfill

(01:59):
them the legal requirements of passports, visas foster families, eventually
helping to facilitate the evacuation of an amazing six hundred
and sixty nine children to British soil. Fifty years later,
married and his own children raised, Nicky Winton is haunted

(02:24):
by the fate of the children they weren't able to
bring to safety. It's not until the BBC TV show
That's Life reintroduces him to some of those he helped
rescue that he begins to come to terms with the
guilt and grief he carried, and he became a national hero.

(02:48):
Based on the book If It's Not Impossible The Life
of Sir Nicholas Winton, written by his daughter Barbara Winton.
The new movie One Life, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, tells
this incredible, emotional true story of Nicholas Nicky Winton and

(03:08):
those who would later call themselves Nicky's children. Today we
have the great honor of welcoming Sir Nicholas Wynton's son,
Nick Junior to this podcast. I have a feeling this
is going to be an emotional conversation, but one I
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(03:28):
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Speaker 1 (05:25):
Nick Winton Junior.

Speaker 3 (05:27):
Good morning, Delilah.

Speaker 1 (05:29):
I watched the movie that you participated in and that
was based on your father last night. I had seen
the clip of the actual TV show on social media
several years ago. Somebody had posted it, and I watched

(05:51):
it two or three times, and then I did a
little research myself and I found maybe two inches of information,
you know, on the internet about your father. I'm going
to get emotional here just thinking about it. And I
thought at the time when I saw that clip, and

(06:13):
I saw it showed him and the audience, and then
the moderator said, anybody whose life was saved, stand up.
And in the actual TV show clip, he didn't see
the people behind him. He saw the person to his

(06:36):
side and to his left and to his right. But
they the producers of that show, and what year was
at eighty eight, seven.

Speaker 3 (06:45):
Eighty eight, they said, would you like to look behind you?

Speaker 1 (06:50):
And she said it so sweetly on the little clip
that was on going around social media that he looked
like he was going to collapse under the weight of
those lives.

Speaker 3 (07:05):
It's an amazing piece of television, and the presenter Esther
Ranson says, it's one of the greatest pieces of TV
she's ever made. And my father took ten twenty years
to forgive her because he was invited to the studio
under false pretenses, supposedly giving advice on the accuracy of

(07:28):
the segment that they were going to produce, and he
was sat down in the middle of the front row
and ambushed.

Speaker 1 (07:35):
And ambushed with love.

Speaker 3 (07:38):
Yeah, there was very moving and he was brought up
in a generation where you don't show emotion, you know,
it's all very poker faced and stiff upper lip. And
the fact that he even had a tear is for
him almost equivalent to a breakdown. It's extraordinary. And every

(07:58):
time I watch it, I've seen it quite a few times,
I find it very tearful, very tip because of what
it represents, you know, so many lives, so many lives.

Speaker 1 (08:10):
I started crying five minutes into the movie because I
had seen that clip and I had done a little
research myself. And then at the end of it, my
sister was watching it simultaneously in her house. We must
have started it like at the same time without knowing that.
And she wrote to me and she said, I'm sobbing,

(08:32):
And I couldn't even respond for a few minutes because
I wasn't sobbing. I was ugly crying. I was just
like And I slept so soundly after I had that
good cry. But what was it like being the son
of and I'm guessing the movie portrayed your father accurately,

(08:57):
and that he never considered himself a saint, he never
considered himself a hero.

Speaker 3 (09:02):
Yeah, I mean that the film is accurate in all
the important ways. There are very few artistic licenses that
the filmmakers have taken. And yes, as he says, without
wanting to spoil anybody's pleasure who's yet to see the film,
he was just an ordinary guy and he considered it

(09:23):
part of his moral duty to be involved in the
community and help and it might be worth remembering. This
film is based on my sister's book, which is a
biography of his whole life. He lived for one till
one hundred and six.

Speaker 1 (09:41):
Okay, way back up, you said you're seventy one. I did,
and that you have maybe ten years of storytelling. But
if I'm doing the math correctly and your dad lived
to one hundred and six you got the DNA, you
could be telling stories for thirty five more years.

Speaker 3 (09:58):
Your sharp Delilah. Yeah, but remember I also had a mother,
are right? It could be It could be a while.
But this film, although it's called One Life, it's really
two slices of a year, each more or less out

(10:19):
of one hundred and six years. The first slice is
about eighty five years ago, just before the war, and
that was a nine month period, and the second slice
was about fifty years later when the story came to
light and what happened, And I can tell you he
did so many other things, all of many of them humanitarian,

(10:40):
because he considered it to be part of every person's
role in life to help others. And you know, as
a society, we rely on helping each other, and we
all benefit if we help, however small. You know, even
just I liked when I talked to schools particularly, I
like to use the story is an opening for a

(11:03):
whole series of different views on life, one of which
is to remind students and you, Delilah, that every day
you change the world, and it may only be in
small ways. You know, you smile at somebody who's feeling
a bit depressed, and you think, so what, But you
have no idea how that may have affected the person

(11:26):
that you smiled at. They may have been going through
some torment and inner turmoil, and you've just given them
a little branch to hang on to rather than sinking.
So there are so many small ways where every day
we affect the world and we can change it for
the better. Sometimes they're bigger than others. And my father
happened to be in a situation where he noticed something

(11:49):
which he felt needed to be done, and rather than
sit on the couch and blame others and say they
should fix it, he was active, and in fact he
had In one of the letters he wrote in nineteen
thirty nine, he said that he saw a difference between
what he called active goodness and passive goodness. He said

(12:11):
that active goodness meant going out and finding people in
need and helping them, and that just being passive you
weren't really good at all. You had to be active
if you wanted to be a good person. So you
can't just avoid doing bad things.

Speaker 1 (12:27):
I mean, it all boils down to this, are you
going to love someone or are you going to be selfish?

Speaker 3 (12:33):
I couldn't put it better. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (12:35):
So there's another hero that I connected to in the movie,
and that is the character that represented your grandma.

Speaker 3 (12:44):
Isn't she great? I've got to talk with one and Carter,
and she is so sweet and she was so like Grandma.
I mean I can remember Granny and you know, sitting
on the verandah and talking and yeah, and she identified
apparently with the role, but because of her heritage.

Speaker 1 (13:01):
So tell me about that, Tell me about your grandma,
and tell me about the actress and her heritage, because
I was as in love with her watching the movie
and cheering for her as I was for your father.
As Anthony Hopkins, who played your father, like, I don't
think he could have accomplished any of that without her.

(13:25):
It seems like she was the wind beneath his wings.
She was the touchstone, if you will, that gave him
the courage like. Never once did she say don't do that,
You can't do that? What are you even thinking?

Speaker 3 (13:39):
Yeah, I'm It's one of the few, maybe small artistic
licenses in the movie that I noticed, is that my
father was a very accomplished typist. And again, when I'm
talking with children school pupils, I have to remind them

(14:00):
that typing a letter in nineteen thirty eight thirty nine
was very different from what you do today. There was
no word processor, no cut and paste, no templates, no
spell checkers. You had a big mechanical machine and two
sheets of paper and a piece of carbon paper, and
your first draft was your final version. And it was

(14:21):
slow and error, lots of errors, and he had to
learn to type and did it very very quickly. But
she was certainly a great force and a great supporter.
She came over from Germany when she was quite young
to marry my grandfather. How old I'm thinking early twenties,

(14:49):
and she was quite bright, intelligent. I think she felt
deprived of a career, although in that era, in the
turn of the century, women were not really generally accepted
in any form of work. But she was quite a

(15:10):
force of nature, as the film shows, and I guess
she had a reasonable sense of humor. I mean, I
thought that Helena Bonham Carter's version was hilarious. I mean,
she had some cracking lines in the film to remind
the British establishment of some of the core values that
we claimed to live by.

Speaker 1 (15:31):
That was brilliant, I know.

Speaker 3 (15:33):
And you know, my father was sent to what in
England we call a public school, which for some curious
reason is actually a private school. And he was in
a very renowned school called Stowe in the first year
that it was established, in the first year it was founded,
and there the headmaster had the intention of, as he

(15:57):
described it, turning out young men who were in acceptable
at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck. So he
wasn't just learning Greek and Latin and all the other
useful things that you learn at a public school. But
he was also learning how to be resourceful and entrepreneurial,
which was a great asset to him in most of

(16:17):
his life.

Speaker 1 (16:18):
So the storyline, like you said, it takes on one
slice out of his life back the year before the
World War two was declared. It started long before it
was declared.

Speaker 3 (16:31):
Well, you declared. It's a little different dates from us.

Speaker 1 (16:33):
I think, yeah, Well, the world decides when they're going
to declare something, even though it's been going on for
some time.

Speaker 3 (16:40):
Right, that's true.

Speaker 1 (16:42):
Let's pretend, let's close our eyes and pretend we don't
see this. But your why did your dad why did
he go to Prague in the first place? What was
the motivation to go to Checkloslovakia?

Speaker 3 (16:54):
It is a great question.

Speaker 1 (16:55):
He had a career, he was established in his career.

Speaker 3 (17:00):
I've been reflecting a lot on his history. He was
born of German Jewish parents. His father was a banker,
and he was sent well, I think in those days,
your father told you what your career was going to be. Usually,
so he started in banking and after school he was

(17:20):
sent to learn banking in Germany and he was sent
in nineteen thirty thirty one. What an amazing time to
learn banking, just after the crash of twenty nine, the
beginning of the depression which affected most of the Western economies.
In Germany, which was already suffering under the problems from

(17:45):
the Versaid Treaty, which was by many people reckoned to
be an unpayable bill for the First World War, and
they had resorted to the only way they could afford
well that there were three options. They could either default
on paying the bill well, or they could print money,

(18:05):
which is, you know, print the money to pay the bill,
which is what they did. And my father had stories
like when you sat down in a cafe to have
a coffee or a pastry, you'd pay the bill before
the coffee came because there was a risk. But by
the time you'd finished your coffee, the prices would have
gone up because their inflation was so huge. And that's

(18:29):
the stories you sometimes hear of people with wheelbarrow full
of notes because the legal tender had become almost worthless
in the later in the thirties. So this was part
of the backdrop. I mean, he made friends in Germany,
he had extended family in Germany, so I think he
probably had a greater sense of what was going on

(18:49):
in Europe than maybe even some of the politicians did. Secondly,
he was also really interested in politics. He had quite
a lot of friends in the British Labor Party, which
is our left wing, the equivalent of your Democrats, and
he was more aware of how they were thinking. And

(19:11):
he was in touch with a school master called Martin Blake,
who he apart from discussing politics, with a company tim
on school skiing trips. I think really to get a
free skiing trip in exchange for looking after some of
the kids. And they were great, They were really great friends.

(19:33):
And this year that he was supposed to be doing
another skiing trip, Martin had phoned him to say, I'm
We're not doing the skiing trip this year. I've been
to Prague. I want you to come and see what's
going on here. And so he, instead of going skiing,
went to Prague and then when he saw the reality

(19:54):
of what was going on, he felt compelled to do something,
and that's what the film explores.

Speaker 1 (20:07):
So a hit. His mother was Jewish, correct your grandmother?
His father was German or British German Jewish German. Oh,
both of them because I remember the rabbi asking him
what are you? What do you consider yourself?

Speaker 3 (20:25):
As well? He was born in London. He was sent
to a Christian school in England. We have Church of England,
which is sort of religion lights. The schools tend to
have religious services on Sundays and maybe a little lot
of assemblies. He was baptized confirmed. He was brought up

(20:48):
as an Englishman, and so when he had that conversation
with the rabbi, it un picked kind of a curious
of the Jewish group, which I still find quite interesting
today because there seem to be three different definitions for

(21:11):
whether you're Jewish. One is because your mum is therefore
you must be, so it's racial. The second is that
you're a religious jew you have either been born into
it or converted into it. And the third is what
i'd call cultural, which is you're not religious, but you're
part of a synagogue. And they have, in my experience,

(21:34):
amazing community support and outreach programs in a way that
you know, is really public spirited, I mean, or be
it in their own community, but it's outstanding. So it
seems to me there are three different ways you could
be called Jewish.

Speaker 1 (21:50):
I loved when the Rabbi was questioning him that you
could see that for him it wasn't a god thing
or a religious thing at all. It's the right thing.
Saving children is the right thing to do.

Speaker 3 (22:05):
Yeah, And well turn it around, Delilah, and just for
a minute, consider a lot of the refugee families were
well to do. There'd be people like you and me
and you know, lawyers and teachers, medical professionals, and suddenly
they're homeless because they've been driven out of their homeland

(22:29):
and they're fearing for their lives because they can see
that Hitler blames the Jews for all the ills of
the Third Reich and Germany. But there are other people
as well who were standing up against Nazism who were
also at risk, and they could see that their lives

(22:49):
were in danger and were trying to get out of Germany, Czechoslovakia,
that whole area, and some of them, recognizing them it
might be difficult for them to get out, said is
there anything that we can do about our children? And
maybe we can send them to safety while we try

(23:09):
and get out some other way. How difficult must it be,
delire to put your four five six year old child
onto a train to be brought up by strangers that
you've never met in a country that you've never been to,
when they speak a language you don't understand. I mean,

(23:31):
it just makes the hairs on the back of my
neck stand up to just think of how traumatic that
whole period in those people's lives must be.

Speaker 1 (23:41):
No. I have six children that are adopted out of
a refugee camp.

Speaker 3 (23:48):
Oh Delilah, how wonderful, How congratulations.

Speaker 1 (23:53):
My youngest will be eight next week. Their country was
destroyed by war, never made the news. Nobody even knows
that six hundred thousand people were exterminated. Nobody cares because
it's an African nation, and nobody cares. And their parents

(24:20):
survived the war and fled as children to a refugee
camp in another African nation, Ghana, and I began working
there in two thousand and four. There's nothing more important
to me than saving kids.

Speaker 3 (24:39):
Yeah, and.

Speaker 1 (24:43):
I can never do what your dad did, but I
can do what I can do.

Speaker 3 (24:46):
This is I find this the whole story of my
father challenging in so many different ways. When you consider
the sheer number of refugee children, you think that this
is complete, insoluble the problem is so big that nobody
can deal with it, and then you know, so maybe

(25:07):
if it's too big, we shouldn't try. And my father,
knowing it was big, said well, I am going to try.
And okay, he saved less than a half, quite a
lot less than a half of the children that were
in danger. But for the ones who were saved, it's
the whole life. It's not like you get a bit saved.
You are either are the lucky one. And if you're

(25:29):
the lucky one, even if it's just one, you would
be so grateful.

Speaker 1 (25:32):
The end of the movie, when your mother and father
invited some of the children to come to their house,
did that really happen?

Speaker 3 (25:43):
Yeah, Verira was She lived not that far away, and
yeah she was great fun and we had quite a
few parties where the children came. But although they came
originally to England, many of them traveled to other parts
of the world later. And one of the great friends

(26:05):
my father had was in Toronto. What's extraordinaries how many
of them made huge contributions to the world. They weren't
just passengers. Many of them were right at the top
of their chosen profession, either in medicine or psychiatry or science,

(26:26):
or politics or filmmaking, and the one in Toronto. Joe
Slessinger was an award winning war correspondent and he and
my father were like brothers. It was just so wonderful
when they reconnected. I mean say reconnected when they connected,
because for fifty years my father didn't know anything about

(26:47):
any of them. He just got on with his life.
But when he met Joe Slessinger, they were just adorable together.
They had a terrific time.

Speaker 4 (26:57):
It was wonderful to seeing a fascinating conversation with Nick Winton, junior,
son of Sir Nicholas Winton, who was instrumental in evacuating
six hundred and sixty nine children to safety.

Speaker 1 (27:13):
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So what was it like being growing up in that
kind of environment? The character that portrayed your mother Very Quiet?
Is your mom very quiet?

Speaker 3 (28:56):
Very? Not quite as passive as the film suggests. No,
she was also quite active in her own way, with
helping to found a Europeans women's movement in Maidenhead, where
they twinned with three other similar towns in France. In

(29:17):
Italy and in Germany she was Danish, so we had
a lot of Danish culture as well, so no, she
was also it was good because again it was an
era when my mother wasn't expected to work, so she
was a full time house mother. Can I put it

(29:39):
that way? And really it gave my father the space
to do a lot of the things that he went
on to do because he was involved in so many
other charities and activities.

Speaker 1 (29:53):
I have to read your sister's book now, the fact
that this is just two years slice out of his
life and year sharing with us how many other things
he did. I have to read the book.

Speaker 3 (30:05):
The production company Seesaw Films, who made the King's Speech,
asked my father maybe five le ten years before he
died if they could make a film about him. And
you said no, no, no, no, There's already been plenty
done about me, so he wasn't interested. My sister's book

(30:27):
was published just a year before he died, or a
year and a half before he died, and then they
approached Barbara and said could they use that as the
basis for the script and she worked with Linda Coxon,
the primary script writer, and Nick Drake, so yes, it
was an interesting life, covering so many facets. And you know,

(30:49):
James Hawes, the director, said, you know, when you're making
a film, remember it's one hundred and ten minutes. You
can't condense ad one hundred and six years into less
than two hours. So he said that they had to
be very clear on what the story was going to
be about, and it's very understated. You know, my father
was a very ordinary man. He considered himself very ordinary.

(31:12):
He found the whole acknowledgment when the story broke quite uncomfortable.
I mean, he was a competent public speaker, you know,
he gave good speech, he had a great sense of humor.
But all the accolades he felt were completely misplaced and
they really belonged with the people who were in danger

(31:34):
in Prague while he was in London most of the
time raising the money, finding the families and managing logistics.

Speaker 1 (31:44):
Well, it's a beautiful, beautiful movie and I would encourage everybody, anybody,
it doesn't matter what your faith is, what your uh,
your nationality is. I think it's such a much big
your story. I mean it boils down to where's our humanity?

(32:06):
Where's your heart? Do you care?

Speaker 3 (32:09):
It's a story of hope.

Speaker 1 (32:10):
And the way the movie portrayed your father is he
was not interested, and I'm guessing that's who he was
in anybody's political agenda. He was just saving kids' lives.

Speaker 3 (32:23):
Yes, that was the immediate need then and later it
was mentally handicapped children. Because he had a son, my brother,
who was born with dun syndrome, and in those days,
the advice was, well, you can't look after him at home.
You'll have to go into an institution. And he thought,
you can't do that. He's gorgeous. So he worked out

(32:47):
and it took a lot of research and thought whether
they could look after him at home. I mean now
today people don't think twice about it, but in those
days there was the concern, how would it affect me
and my sister, would friends that we have stopped coming
to visit because there was this odd person at the
house as well, And would it affect our growth and

(33:10):
development and all sorts of things that you might not
imagine today. And he said, no, we're going to look
after him at home. And then he founded a Maidenhead
Mentally Handicapped Society to support families who had similar problems
and it's still going today sixty years later. So when
he saw in need, rather than saying they should do something.

Speaker 1 (33:32):
About that, he did something about it about.

Speaker 3 (33:35):
There and say we should do something about that.

Speaker 1 (33:38):
Nick, I love your dad. I wish that I had
had the opportunity to meet him. But what a blessing
that I got to meet you.

Speaker 3 (33:45):
Well, if you go as you have to the film
and you look at Anthony Hopkins, I swear it's not
Anthony Hopkins on the film, it's my dad. He is
so alike. It's just uncanny mannerisms, the looks, the way
he walks. Everything. At times, I look at it and
I just I just can't believe that I'm not looking

(34:08):
at my part my father. Wow, most people won't know.

Speaker 1 (34:12):
Yeah, but it's your dad. Best gift, your dad gave
you of all these lessons and miracles and stories and
just a way of thinking and a way of breathing,
in a way of being. Best gift if you were
to pick one.

Speaker 3 (34:27):
Or two apart from my life, apart from.

Speaker 1 (34:30):
Your life, because your mom had a lot more to
do with that than your dad.

Speaker 3 (34:39):
The heavy lifting, didn't she. Yeah, I suppose foundation that
ethics are more important than anything that you know, the
values that we live by are worth standing up for
and not to compromise. And father loved the work he
did in charities. He made great friends and they enjoyed

(35:01):
doing it as projects together. It wasn't like a painful
duty that he felt he was obliged to do. It
was just like having a nice hobby.

Speaker 1 (35:09):
I love the entire movie One Life, from beginning to end.
I sobbed ridiculous amounts of tears. I was dehydrated, I'm
sure at the end of the movie. But so inspired exactly.

Speaker 3 (35:25):
It's not a depressing movie, though, Is it so inspired?

Speaker 1 (35:29):
It's not depressing at all.

Speaker 3 (35:31):
Yes, an inspiration and a reminder to all of us
that when we see something that needs to be done,
we should stand up and get involved instead of complaining.

Speaker 1 (35:42):
Amen. Amen, thank you for this time. Thank you for
speaking on behalf of your dad.

Speaker 4 (35:47):
Nick.

Speaker 3 (35:48):
God bless you so lovely to talk to you, Deliah,
Thank you, thank you. It's been a great pleasure.

Speaker 1 (35:54):
Inspiring generations through a legacy of courage? Is Nick Winton
Junior mission? Inspiring generation through a legacy of courage? Isn't
that beautiful and so true? Being the son of Sir
Nicholas Winton has not only instilled a sense of responsibility

(36:15):
in him, but also empowered him to convey lessons that
are both timeless and universally relevant. Nick Junior is an impactful,
thought provoking speaker who can shed light on the life
and legacy of his father. His talks are more than
a recounting of our history. They're a call to action

(36:38):
for businesses, leaders, individuals, young people. Nick is available for
events across the US, and you can contact him through
his website in Winton dot com. That's www dot n
Winton dot com. One Life The Story of Sir Nicholas Winton,

(36:58):
a Bleaker Street ption starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter,
Johnny Flynn, and Jonathan Price, made its debut in theaters
on March fifteenth. The performances are powerful, the images are
heart wrenching. The tears will flow freely. I promise you

(37:21):
and I cannot recommend this movie enough. I cannot tell
you enough how it broke my heart and then put
it back together again. It is such such a powerful story.
You will be moved, you will be in awe, you
will be inspired. It is a mussy I'm not kidding.

(37:42):
You take some tissue. Take your teenagers. Please take your teenagers,
my friends. Easter falls on March thirty first this year.
What a wonderful way to end the month with the promise,
the promise of Easter, of rebirth, of renewal. The tomb
was empty, the stone was rolled away. For me, that

(38:05):
is hope. I was so so moved by Nicholas Winton's story,
inspired and motivated to do difficult but necessary things. Nick's
motto is if something is not impossible, then there must
be a way to do it. That is a motto
we should all take to heart. I so am going

(38:27):
to live that motto if I possibly can. What is
it that you are called to do this spring? How
can you make a difference in the world. You don't
have to have lofty goals, you don't. You just need
to be willing to reach out and love someone.
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