I love books by Peter Sís. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain and Tibet: Through the Red Box are two of my favourite books of his and I strongly suggest you read them if you haven’t already. Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued tells the incredible story of a silent hero of World War II who saved the lives of nearly seven hundred children by organising secret evacuations from Prague to England.
Nicholas (Nicky) Winton was born in London in 1909 into a free-world where children could do anything and be anything they wanted to be. As a child and young adult he embraced his passions and travelled over Europe. All this would change though as in Germany a dangerous leader and his Nazi party were growing stronger. In a small town in Czechoslovakia on the fringes of Prague, a ten-year-old girl named Vera was busy enjoying her childhood and lived happily with her Jewish family.
1938 was a dangerous time to be a Jew and as the German army marched into border region of Czechoslovakia, Nicky pre-empted the dangers that lay ahead. From a hotel in Prague, he worked tirelessly helping children escape on his ‘special trains’ under the ever watchful eyes of spies and with the Nazi’s closing in Vera made her escape.
Nicky & Vera tells the story of a remarkable man and the children he rescued with a focus on one particular child, Vera. Their stories are expertly intertwined with the pair finally meeting many years later in life. Incredibly, Nicky never told anyone about his secret mission during the war and it wasn’t until much later in life that his wife found the paper records that he had kept and an appearance on a British TV show would reunite him with many of the children that he had saved. Not only did Nicky organise this incredible rescue mission he also served in the war, to quote Nicky, “I only saw what needed to be done.” Tragically for Vera, on returning to her homeland she found that her family had been victims of the war and that there was nothing left for her and in the end she moved back to England where she would marry and have a family of her own.
Peter Sis handles the topic of the holocaust and the atrocities of war in such a sensitive way and this makes for the perfect book to introduce younger readers to the tragic events of World War II. The prose tell the important parts of the story without going into too much detail and the accompanying artwork is stunning. The author’s note at the back of the book provides plenty of additional information which makes for an interesting read in itself for adults and older children.
This is an incredible story and I had to keep reminding myself that these events actually happened as it is all seems so impossible and improbable. Nicky was determined to overcome the odds that were stacked against him. He was a man doing what needed to be done. He was the quiet hero whose actions saved the lives of 669 children.
Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued is due for publication on 26th January 2021.
Recommended for 7+.
With thanks to Norton Young Readers for the advanced reader copy which was obtained via Netgalley.