Lessons from “One Life”

We can all learn much from this film:

I just did something I very seldom do of late: I saw a film. It was about rescuing children. Perhaps the only other movie I went to see during the past four years was also about rescuing children, from sexual traffickers: The Sound of Freedom.

This one was about saving young children in Prague – most of them Jewish – from the Nazis in 1938-1939. It is called One Life and it stars Anthony Hopkins who plays a true character: the British stockbroker and humanitarian Nicholas Winton. He had become deeply concerned about these poor children, many orphaned, all in precarious positions, given the Nazi threat they were facing. It was just a matter of time before Hitler took all of the nation.

All up Winton and a dedicated team managed to save 669 children and bring them to England, just before WWII broke out. The film looks at his life both during the late 1930s, and in the 1980s. It is a powerful and moving story, and tissues will be needed to help you make it through.

Ordinary people

Several lessons emerged from the film – at least for me. One is the fact that much of what happens in life is achieved by ordinary people – both for good and ill. One important book that looks at the great evil ordinary people can do – in this case, during the Nazi era – is entitled Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning. One write-up says this about the volume:

Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions.

But this film of course features a far different sort of ordinary man – one who spent his life working for good, and not for evil. It is an inspiring and moving story of how so much can be achieved by a few committed individuals. Indeed, in the film Nicky refers to his helpers as an ‘army of ordinary men’.

The power of one – and a small group

This film certainly shows just what one person can do to make a difference. Winton kept insisting that he was no hero and that others were heavily involved in this work. But if it were not for his vision, his passion, and his determination – as well as a lot of hard work – perhaps there would not have been any of these Czech children rescued.

His mother helped him greatly in this endeavour, along with a handful of other committed warriors. One is reminded of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. They did so much earlier on in England and the world over, including their work as abolitionists. But they were always a rather small group. Yes, he and some others were aristocrats and politicians, but still, they were a small band doing very big tasks.

Winton had some friends in high places, but still, most of the work being done in England and Czechoslovakia was being done by ordinary men and women. Their determination and dedication to do what was right, even at great personal cost, made them extraordinary people.

Having an impact

We all will have some sort of impact in this world. If you are a Christian, you want Christ to be honoured and glorified in all that you do. And if you are like me, you sometimes wonder if you are really making much of a difference, and if your life and work are really all that worthwhile.

For a long time, Winton did not know all that much about what had happened to all those children he helped to save. But a BBC television program that aired decades later made it clear to him just what an impact he really had. He was invited on as a guest, little knowing that some of the very people he had helped to rescue were there with him in the studio audience.

The actual real-life TV program “That’s Life” first aired in 1988. A seven-minute clip from it can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqqbM1B-mPY

I had actually seen this online a few years back, but only tonight did I make the connection between that video clip and the subject of this film. These survivors became known as “Winton’s Children.” They certainly are a real-time legacy of this man and his great work.

As I say, believers can sometimes wonder what sort of life they are living. The truth is, for most of us, the full and final revelation of what good we may have done and what lives we may have impacted or even helped save (spiritually speaking) will have to wait for the next world. Who knows, there might even be in one sense “Muehlenberg’s Children” – at least in the next life.

Yes, we may from time to time be told by someone in this life what an impact we had on them. Perhaps we inspired or encouraged them during a really dark period. Perhaps they sensed our prayers during a needy period. You may even have helped prevent a few folks from committing suicide. We just do not know all that we may have achieved.

Most of us will not have a national television program honouring us and our activities. As I say, it will be in the next life that we will come to see just what our life meant to others. And we may not hear much of any positive feedback in this life. But we must persevere. What we do, we do for God and his glory. That is enough. If we get some good reports along the way, that is a blessing. If not, we keep on keeping on.

This movie – and the true story that lies behind it – is a welcome tonic to so much that is empty, vacuous and banal in this world. So if you have your tissues ready, why not check out the film? It will be a few hours very well spent indeed.

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6 Replies to “Lessons from “One Life””

  1. Hi Bill.

    Thank you so much for your post today on the film ‘One Life’ commemorating Britain’s Oskar Schindler, Sir Nicholas Winton MBE.

    Yours is an inspiring and thought-provoking message with which to start the New Year.

    I wish we could say that the Nazis’ premeditated extermination of European Jews in World War II was distant history and that humanity has since committed itself to ensure these crimes are never repeated.

    Sad to say, however, we can never relax our guard against the recrudescence of this ancient evil.

    Spiritual descendants of Haman, Herod and Hitler re-emerge every generation hell-bent on wiping out God’s Chosen People.

    Europe in the past two decades has become steadily less and less hospitable to Jews, many of whom have felt compelled to migrate to Israel.

    The Hamas-led attack on Israel itself, on October 7, 2023, is a sharp reminder of how vulnerable Jews are, wherever they reside.

    Meanwhile, looming large is the growing nuclear threat to Israel from Hamas’s backers, the fanatical Muslim clerics who rule Iran.

    It is hard in desperate times such as these for Christians to exercise the virtue of hope.

    Yet your posts over the years, reminding your readers of the heroic deeds of figures such as Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sophie Scholl and Sir Nicholas Winton, are a great encouragement for us to keep fighting the good fight and not to give up.

  2. Great film. I was able to take some grandkids. I did wonder if he was a Christian….Seemed like they made a point out of saying that he and his Mum were socialists, perhaps athiests…who are considered “the good people” these days. Lord help us Christians outshine the socialists.

  3. When Winton was responding to the Jewsih rabbi he explained his Jewish German ancestry and the change of name and baptism in C of E but described himself as a socialist and agnostic.

    The film does show the impact one person can have on many lives when you add in the descendants of these evacuated children. The estimate was 6000 at the time of filming. Also the challenges of old school bureaucracy and manual record systems during wartime.

  4. Another great movie along this line is called Resistance. The story of the great mime artist Marcel Marceau who rescued children out of France before he became famous.

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