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John Simkin

Bratislava Oral History Project

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A brief outline of Winton's wonderful work here http://www.powerofgood.net/story.php

I had the high honor of being present when Winton first returned to Prague some years ago. Unbeknown to Winton several [about 20] of the former children he saved were in the audience. After he spoke about his experiences in the most modest manner - as if anyone would have done the same - they all stood up and one by one in the most spine-chilling tone said "I am [name] and I am alive today because you saved my life...from the bottom of my heart thank you and Shalom" They then all came up together and all embrassed Winton. Not a dry eye was left in the room for at least 20 minutes. The sad fact is that most would not have done (and did not do) what he did. Persons like Winton are all too rare and much needed in the world, both to make positive change and to remind us of what heights of goodness humans can achieve. Simply meeting him was an honor. To have seen him reunited with several of his saved Czech children changed my life.

Although I agree that Winton should be praised for saving so many lives, what stands out is the fact so few people were unwilling to help rescue these children. For example, the US government refused to accept any of these Jewish children from Eastern Europe. The British government agreed to take them but imposed strict conditions. As Winton pointed out: "The only problem was to get permits for the children to enter England and to fulfill the conditions which were laid down by the Home Office, which was that I could only bring in a child if I had a family that would look after them." Winton visited the Home Office and the British government agreed that they would allow political refugees younger than 17 years old as long as they had a place to stay and had £50 as warranty of the payment of the return ticket. Winton main task was to find foster parents and to raise the money needed to bring the children to Britain. The 17 year old rule meant that a large number of Jewish teenagers were killed in Nazi concentration camps.

You can read more about Winton here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CZwinton.htm

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Thanks for your comments so far.

One of the people the students will be interviewing is Vera Gissing, a 'Winton child' and author of Pearls of Childhood which is based on the diaries she kept during the war years. She is also wonderful on camera. She is memorable in the Matej Minac film but also had a significant impact on the students who have seen her in the UK Teachers TV programme The Kindertransport - Goodbye Home.

http://www.teachers.tv/video/17842

I also read that

According to a 2001 New York Times article, Winton's parents were born Jewish, but he was baptized in the Church of England and used British church groups to find homes for nearly 650 children from Czechoslovakia - 25 to 30 of the children went to Sweden by air.
Maybe we could use our e-Help Swedish contacts to try to track these people down? That could make an interesting project in its own right.

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I also read that
According to a 2001 New York Times article, Winton's parents were born Jewish, but he was baptized in the Church of England and used British church groups to find homes for nearly 650 children from Czechoslovakia - 25 to 30 of the children went to Sweden by air.
Maybe we could use our e-Help Swedish contacts to try to track these people down? That could make an interesting project in its own right.

According to my research 15 children were flown out via Sweden on 14th March, 1939. However, they were later moved to London. These were the first children rescued by Winton and the only ones to go by air. I suspect these were the ones with wealthy parents as at the time Winton was attempting to raise the funds to bring them to London. (The British government insisted that each child had to have £50 as warranty of the payment of the return ticket.) I doubt if the stayed in Sweden for long enough for there to be too much information about them.

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Some questions have come in from the students at: http://studenteducationforum.ipbhost.com/i...p?showtopic=635

Whether it is alright to ask really personal questions, maybe about their parents?

Also what are there any questions we shouldn't definetely ask or do or say?

Do we actually contribute to the discussion or just ask questions without commentaries?

How do we conclude after the last question?

Thinking about questions from the period of WW2, what can we expect elderly people to remember from their childhood?

And when does a question become too personal? Do you think it would be too uncomfortable to ask about Winton children's parents? As in whether they have ever found out anything about them or for how long did they have contact with them...?

To what extent can we express sympathy towards interviewees and to what extent should we try to keep it 'professional'?

1. is it wise, appropriate or useful to ask questions which have already been asked, let's say in the film 'the power of good' or in any other well-known interview. Won't that just feel repetitive to them?

2.it will probably be inevitable to ask a personal question, as the whole topic is pretty personal and probably hurtful.. but is there anything you think could improve the way we ask these personal questions? language? etc.

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Some questions have come in from the students at: http://studenteducationforum.ipbhost.com/i...p?showtopic=635

Whether it is alright to ask really personal questions, maybe about their parents?

Also what are there any questions we shouldn't definetely ask or do or say?

Do we actually contribute to the discussion or just ask questions without commentaries?

How do we conclude after the last question?

It is important that you come prepared for the interview. This includes having a list of questions. It is best to start with “open-ended” questions. You have to remain sensitive to the psychological needs of the person being interviewed. For example, a few years ago I carried out a series of interviews with people who had lived during the Second World War. This included an interview with my uncle who was a member of the 8th Army that fought in the Middle-East and invaded Italy. He was reluctant to talk about these events. I also interviewed a man who saw considerable action in the Far East. He was only willing to talk about funny incidents that happened to him while he was in the army. In both cases, they were unable to talk about the fighting that took place. I suspect this was because they could not come to terms with the fact they had to kill fellow human-beings during the war. If they give the impression that they are not able to talk about these things then you should stop. However, these people have volunteered to be interviewed and this suggests they are willing to talk about these matters.

Thinking about questions from the period of WW2, what can we expect elderly people to remember from their childhood?

And when does a question become too personal? Do you think it would be too uncomfortable to ask about Winton children's parents? As in whether they have ever found out anything about them or for how long did they have contact with them...?

To what extent can we express sympathy towards interviewees and to what extent should we try to keep it 'professional'?

Memory can be a problem. I have found using photographs is a good way of getting people to remember about the past.

As I said above, because they have volunteered to be interviewed it is unlikely that they will be reluctant to answer certain questions. A few years ago I was interviewing civilians who had lived through the Blitz. These women were extremely honest about what happened to them. One, admitted that she was disciplined after she fled the ammunition factory where she was working, after it came under attack from German bombs. Another woman, who was only a child at the time, spoke movingly about how she was responsible for the death of her sister during a bombing raid. In both cases, these women used the interview as a kind of therapy.

However, you must be very sensitive to their reactions. If they show any sort of anxiety about a particular question, you must change the subject.

The most important point is to show them you are really interested in what they have to say. This means that at all times you must remain a “sympathetic” listener.

1. Is it wise, appropriate or useful to ask questions which have already been asked, let's say in the film 'the power of good' or in any other well-known interview. Won't that just feel repetitive to them?

2. It will probably be inevitable to ask a personal question, as the whole topic is pretty personal and probably hurtful.. but is there anything you think could improve the way we ask these personal questions? language? etc

Obviously, anybody who interviews these people will want to ask similar questions. They understand that and this will not be a problem.

I have tried to deal with the “personal questions” above. It is better to start with open-ended questions at first. If they show willingness to talk about these distressing issues, you can then go onto more direct questions. However, there is no magic formula for this interview. You just have to be sensitive to their psychological needs.

It might be a good idea to carry out an interview with your parents or grandparents before hand about past events. This will give you invaluable experience of the interview process.

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Thanks for that Mike.

The students had a fantastic three days. The only down side was the BBC throwing the students out of the room they had prepared for the Winton interview. The scene on the BBC news item with Winton was actually lit with our rig, because the BBC crew didn't have one. And they almost didn't get Winton. They were about to do an interview with Alf Dubs one of the Winton 'children' thinking he was Winton, until one of the students pointed out their mistake.

Anyway, we got about 6 hours of tape with all of the children and some of the veterans. One of the students sneaked in a 10 minute slot with Winton after the Queen left.

The website is coming on. I added a video of the kids meeting the Queen today.

http://www.internationalschoolhistory.net/...royal_visit.htm

Will be adding some of the photos over the coming days. At the moment, I am working flat out with the film students trying to put together a short documentary for the annual confernec of the company that runs the school. We also have two of the veterans coming in next week to be interviewed.

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The website is coming on. I added a video of the kids meeting the Queen today.

http://www.internationalschoolhistory.net/...royal_visit.htm

Will be adding some of the photos over the coming days. At the moment, I am working flat out with the film students trying to put together a short documentary for the annual confernec of the company that runs the school. We also have two of the veterans coming in next week to be interviewed.

I think you might have broken the golden rule and spoke to her without waiting for a question.

The "Power of Good" is probably the most emotional documentary I have ever seen. The most moving part is when Vera Gissing's foster mother meets her on the railway station and says: "You will be loved."

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I think you might have broken the golden rule and spoke to her without waiting for a question.

The "Power of Good" is probably the most emotional documentary I have ever seen. The most moving part is when Vera Gissing's foster mother meets her on the railway station and says: "You will be loved."

I agree, I don't know anyone who has watched without struggling to keep back the tears. I'll pass on your comments to Matej, I am sure he will be pleased to hear it.

By the way, I did wait to be spoken to but Vera Gissing interrupted me to give a copy of her book to the Queen. I edited that bit out of the film.

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By the way, I did wait to be spoken to but Vera Gissing interrupted me to give a copy of her book to the Queen. I edited that bit out of the film.

Good to hear that you are still on course for a knighthood

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