For Czech children’s author and illustrator Petr Sis, pioneers, adventurers and dreamers always seem to have caught his attention for books. And for his new book for children, Sis has narrated the story of a largely unnoticed hero Nicholas Winton, also known as the 'British Schindler'.
Titled 'Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued', the book with tells the stories of Winton, who rescued hundreds of Czech Jewish children during the Holocaust, and a young girl he saved.
"I was always looking up to the celebrated adventurers, explorers, inventors, and dreamers," Sis wrote in the book's epilogue. "But I had not paid enough attention to the reluctant and quiet heroes." Some of Sis' earlier works include Christopher Columbus, Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin.
Using vivid illustrations and details such as 10-year-old Vera Gissing's love of stray cats, and how a young Winton learned to ride a motorcycle and fly a plane, the award-winning author personalised the story, while avoiding details of the Holocaust in a book.
Gissing was one of 669 children Winton saved among eight trainloads who escaped to Britain. The ninth train carrying 250 children was stopped at the border on 1 Sept, 1939, as the borders closed following Germany's invasion of Poland.
"I needed to give the story energy and I found a book by Vera Gissing, who was a little girl at the time of Winton’s transport, living a modest and idyllic life in a little village," said Sis, who is based in New York. "Through Vera, I showed the impact on the children. Now that the book is out many of the children are writing to tell me their stories," he said.
Sis, who left Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1982, also recounts in the book, how Winton skipped a ski holiday in Switzerland and rushed to Prague to help organise the escapes.
Winton, who died in 2015 at age 106, had not spoken about his exploits to anyone, until his wife found old pictures stowed away in the attic and urged him to share his story.
"Nicholas Winton represents a hero in the full sense of the word - a defender of human values and yet a modest person. He felt the importance of telling children about how fear and mischief can be overcome," Sis said.
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