There are some persons who perform exceptionally good deeds of showing kindness to others. Some of them are not bothered whether their deeds are recognised or not. Some get recognition by own efforts or those of others. Some don’t get any or due recognition.
The reason why so many good deeds go unnoticed is that many of us have a weakness for celebrity worship. Once someone attains an exalted status by whatever means, the person is worshipped and people don’t bother much about others who have done good deeds. The weakness for celebrity worship is pervasive since many of us are happy with our ordinariness and respective comfort zones, and have no inclination to become special ourselves or to identify those who are special and learn about their accomplishments.
Prior to or during the Second World War, four persons who protected many human lives from the impact of the Holocaust were: Oskar Schindler, Nicholas Winton, Trevor Chadwick, and Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja (affectionately called Jam Sahib).
Oskar Schindler’s name is familiar to many because of the 1993 film, Schindler’s List. Winton, Chadwick, and the Maharaja are sometimes referred as the British Schindler, the Purbeck Schindler, and the Indian Schindler respectively, but their acts stand out as unique as that of Oskar Schindler. People knew about Winton only after a BBC programme in 1988. Chadwick, who helped Winton and termed by Winton as the real hero, got recognition only in August 2022. Many people may not have heard of the Maharaja.
In 1935, when Germany invaded Poland, Schindler set up an enamelware factory there, employing a combination of Jewish forced labourers and free Polish workers. His initial interest was making money, but later he wanted to take care of his Jewish workers. He used bribes and personal diplomacy to save about 1200 Jewish workers from being deported to a concentration camp. He added an armaments manufacturing division to his company to claim that the Jewish workers were essential for the war effort and got it designated as a subcamp.
Schindler faced both risk and cost to protect his Jewish workers. He was suspected of unauthorised aid to them and was arrested thrice, but could not be charged. He produced bogus production figures to justify the existence of the subcamp as an armament factory. He left the place only after the Soviet troops liberated the camp in 1945. In 1949 he migrated to Argentina and returned to Germany in 1957. When he died in 1974, he was penniless and almost unknown.
In 1993, he and his wife were awarded the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Also in 1993, the US Holocaust Memorial Council posthumously presented the Museum’s Medal of Remembrance to him. [https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/oskar-schindler]
He was a London stockbroker. In 1938, when he was 29 years old, he wanted to go to Switzerland on a skiing trip, but went to Czechoslovakia with his friend who was helping people escape from that country before Nazi occupation. Others were helping elderly people to escape, and he was asked if he could help Czech children to escape. He set up an office in a hotel accepting names of children to be sent to England. He returned to England to make arrangements for families who would accept the children. He made arrangements for their settlement raising funds for the cost of travel, paying bribes for allowing the passage of trains and £50 for each child that was required as a deposit by the British government in case of need, and doing all the paperwork, sometimes even forging documents. Trevor Chadwick, a school teacher in England, agreed to be in charge of the office in Prague and make arrangements for transporting the children to England. In 1939, eight train loads carried 669 children, mostly Jewish, to England via Germany. The ninth train with 250 children could not leave Czechoslovakia since the Second World War broke out the same day.
For nearly fifty years, Winton told no one about this, not even his wife, since he thought that others won’t be much interested in what he did. In 1987, he met a publisher’s wife, a holocaust historian, and gave the thick scrapbook he was having which contained details of the children.
She got the story published in a British newspaper. The story attracted the attention of a BBC presenter, who arranged a surprise programme in 1988 in two instalments inviting the rescued children whom they could contact and Winton himself. None of them knew the purpose. The presenter, after mentioning about the scrapbook and introducing two of the recued children, asks all those who were rescued by Winton to stand up. When all of them stand up, Winton is asked to turn around to see the now grown-up children, a pleasant surprise to all and a pleasant viewing for the audience.
He received many honours that include:
- In 1991, he was awarded the Freedom of the City when he visited Prague, Czech Republic.
- In 2003, he received knighthood from the Queen and so he is referred as Sir Nicholas Winton.
- In 2014, he was awarded the order of White Lion by the President of the Czech Republic.
He passed away in 2015, aged 106.
As mentioned above, Chadwick stayed back in Prague to orgamise the transportation of the Czech children to England via Germany, while Winton was working at the England end. Chadwick was to deal with paying bribes where required, and making arrangements for the safe travel of the children on the eight trains that transported them.
Winton said that Chadwick faced more risk than himself and so was the real hero. However, Chadwick’s contribution was not recognised till August 2022, when a bronze statue was unveiled in his hometown, Purbeck. It is surprising that nothing is known about what the rescued Czech children said about him while a lot has been made known of the words of gratitude they expressed to Winton.
Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja
When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, the latter released Polish exiles from its labour camps. The first Prime Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile requested the British Prime Minister to protect the starving young Polish children. India, then a British colony, was suggested as a destination.
The Maharaja of Jamnagar decided to help the refugees. He donated liberally and raised the huge amount of Rs. 6,00,000 from other Princely colleagues and private donations. He built refugee camps in Balachadi (near his capital city) housing 1,200 Polish orphans and fully funded by him; and in Kolhapur, Bandra, Chela, and Panchgani, housing around 15,000 Polish citizens.
When the first batch of malnourished and exhausted orphans arrived in Nawanagar, he welcomed them saying: ‘Don’t consider yourselves as orphans. I am Bapu, the father of all Nawanagaris, including yourselves.’
In Balachadi he made arrangements for their education, medical facilities, and rest and recuperation. He received several honours that include:
- There is a ‘Good Maharaja Square’ in Warsaw.
- Six private schools in Warsaw were named after him.
- He was awarded the President’s Medal, Poland’s highest honour.