If anyone thinks that last Thursday’s front page New York Time’s obituary of Nicholas Winton was solely to bring to light the life of an abashed 106 year old Briton, then think again. As much as the obituary extolled the valiant efforts of Nicholas Winton, who at the tender age of 29, executed the rescue of 669 (mostly) Jewish children from pre-war Czechoslovakia, the obituary also served as an implicit indictment against Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel along with his morose minions and their litany of lament, that the world stood idly by and did absolutely nothing, while Hitler and his henchmen went ahead with their diabolical plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe. On a purely symbolic level, each time the engineers of the eight trains arranged by Nicholas Winton blew their whistle, they were presciently blowing the whistle on Elie Wiesel and others who deny the fact that there were those who cared and refused to stand idly by as Hitler and the Nazis went on a rampage throughout Europe.
The nature of a human being is not to stick one’s neck out for others. I wish it were different, but the overwhelming majority of us think twice and then think again before becoming involved. The Kitty Genovese debacle of fifty plus years ago, where 38 neighbors in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York witnessed the stabbing and subsequent death of the 28 year old bar manager, only became a true news story over a week later, when Abe Rosenthal of the New York Times met Police Commissioner Michael Murphy for lunch. Wishing to evade a topic that the recently appointed city editor had raised, the Police Commissioner steered the discussion to Kitty Genovese. The Kitty Genovese debacle of neighbors standing idly by and doing nothing began as a distraction. When it comes to looking out for the well-being of others, the biblical Moses may have been the first to notice “that there was no one to step in” when an injustice was being committed against an Israelite slave, thereby taking matters into his own hands. Moses however, was far from the last. Society as we know it is not comprised of the likes of Moses.
Contrary to Mr. Wiesel’s charge that the world stood idly by and did absolutely nothing, the world is inanimate. The world cannot stand idly by and do nothing. Individuals can stand idly by and do nothing. Elie Wiesel chooses to see the Holocaust in terms of indifference on the part of mankind; I choose to see the Holocaust in terms of precious few (if only there had been more) risking their lives for others, in some cases complete strangers. That’s why we there exists the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations at Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial; that’s why within the very Concentration Camps themselves, there were acts of uncommon bravery, where Jew and non-Jew alike, risked almost certain death for the sake of others.
Last but not least, one ought to take utmost care if one is going to point fingers at others. While the Holocaust exceeds all other injustices against humans in terms of sheer magnitude, by no means was the Holocaust the final injustice against others. Injustices against individuals and groups of individuals continue to abound with no end in sight. Yet, I am not aware of Elie Wiesel or any of his “Chassidim” speaking out against these injustices against innocents, much less taking on projects anywhere near the scope of the project undertaken by Nicholas Winton. If there were any justice in this world, then Mr. Wiesel should have been asked to speak at Mr. Winton’s funeral.