One Life

Entering another New Year, for many provokes a period of personal reflection.
How was last year – was it a good one, or were you glad to see the back of it? How
does this year, 2024, look for you? Will it be brighter or better than last year, or
does the future look less than promising?
In early January, I went to the cinema to see the new film ONE LIFE, which
recounts the true story of Nicholas Winton who saved 669 children from the
Nazis. In the late 1930s, shortly before the outbreak of the second world war, the
young British stockbroker visited Czechoslovakia, to see with his own eyes the
humanitarian crisis and rising panic among the exiled Jewish community in the
country. So shocked was he by what he witnessed that, with the help of his
indomitable mother, Babette, he helped secure the rescue of 669 children, most of
them Jewish, a feat for which later became known as “the British Schindler”.
It’s a stirring story, and one it’s impossible to watch without considering Britain’s
present-day reluctance when it comes to offering shelter to those most in need of
it. Winton, who was eventually knighted for his actions, is undoubtedly a hero
worth celebrating. The film cuts between two key periods in Winton’s life. The
first, during the late 1930s, follows him as a young idealist who takes holiday leave
from his job in the City to travel to Prague. There he meets Doreen Warriner, a
crisply efficient British economist turned humanitarian. A key member of the
British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Warriner is unflappable and
inspiring, hair immaculate, heels clicking imperiously as she brazenly masterminds
the covert movement of Jewish refugees under the noses of the Nazis.
In the later section, set in the 1980s, Nicholas Winton has retired and prodded by
his wife, Grete, has started to clear out a lifetime’s accumulation of box files from
their comfortable home in Maidenhead, all of which are filled with details of
various charitable endeavours. Among them is a battered briefcase containing the
names and pictures of the children whose escapes from Prague he engineered.
Winton is not the kind of man who would blow his own trumpet, but he realises that
this is an archive of historical significance. After a couple of false starts he meets
Elisabeth Maxwell, wife of the newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, and the story
of Winton’s considerable contribution to the Kindertransport is taken up by the
media. This leads to an unexpected appearance on That’s Life with scenes that rip
out your heart. I was glad that it was dark in the cinema, for as I watched the
film, my cheeks were bathed in tears.
In a book, chronicling the life of Nicholas Winton, we are introduced to his motto,
which was, “If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.”
He certainly lived by that it would seem for all of his 106 years of life!
Leaving the cinema that evening as I passed yet another ‘rough sleeper’ on our cold
city street bedded down for the night on our pavements, and thinking of continuing
crises in the Middle East, Ukraine and Yemen I was struck by how much our world
and its people are crying out for compassion and some way to do the impossible
amid all the challenges of our times. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, we
begin another year with the one, whose one life, we believe changed all in all. How
can we see the world though his compassionate eyes, and with our one life, make a
difference in the lives of others?
How can we consider the impossible and find a way with God’s help to make the
impossible, possible. In St. Matthew, Jesus reminds us that whilst we may well
wonder how people may be saved, “For men this is impossible; but everything is
possible for God.” This gives me hope in the face of what seems like impossible
situations around us just now. But we must play our part in that by praying and
acting. We all have one life. Together let’s find a way to make it count for Christ’s