PRAGUE: Czech children’s author and illustrator Petr Sis - whose earlier works have explored "adventurers and dreamers" such as Christopher Columbus, Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin - has taken on a subject closer to home in his new book.
In "Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued", Sis twins the stories of Nicholas Winton - dubbed the "British Schindler" for his role in rescuing hundreds of Czech Jewish children during the Holocaust - with that of 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."
The award-winning author uses 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 to personalise the story while avoiding details of the Holocaust in a book aimed at children.
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 Sept. 1 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," Sis told Reuters from his New York home.
"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."
Sis, who left Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1982, also recounts in the book, published in the United States and Britain, how Winton skipped a ski holiday in Switzerland and rushed to Prague to help organise the escapes.
For years, Winton - who died in 2015 at age 106 - said nothing about his exploits 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," Sis said. "He felt the importance of telling children about how fear and mischief can be overcome."
(Editing by Michael Kahn and Ed Osmond)