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Nicholas Winton showed how individual acts can change the world

Nicholas Winton, an Englishman who organized the rescue

Nicholas Winton, an Englishman who organized the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children just before the outbreak of World War II, died July 1, 2015. He was 106. Newsday's obituary for Nicholas Winton
Credit: Menemsha Films

The world is made each day by the actions of individuals, good and bad, large and small. Nobody exemplified this more than Sir Nicholas Winton, who died this week at age 106, having made the world immeasurably better through an extraordinary act.

By organizing, wheedling, begging, bribing, lying and forging documents, this London stockbroker saved the lives of 669 children, most of them Jewish, in 1938 and '39. He got them on trains out of Czechoslovakia, and then to England. When Germany invaded Poland, another 250 children on another train Wilton organized did not get out. Not one is believed to have survived. The 669 he saved, though, have more than 6,000 descendants.

It's impossible not to be awed by the actions of a man like Winton, but it's important to remember that people like him are not superhuman. Such heroics can be undertaken -- or not. Families like the Tuohys, featured in the 2009 movie "The Blind Side," adopt homeless children and remake their worlds. Live donors give organs to people they've never met. Winton never even let anybody know he'd saved those children until his wife found his records in an attic 50 years later.

Most of us will never do as much good as these people. But their stories remind us that doing good or not is a choice. If that knowledge does not lead us to great acts, perhaps it can persuade us to be kind and loving and helpful and brave in the small ways we can manage.