Senior Head's Blog: Ordinary People

Tomorrow (Friday 27 January) is Holocaust Memorial Day, and the school is doing a number of things to mark this occasion.  The theme this year is 'Ordinary People', reflecting the idea that those caught up in such events of history are often ordinary folk, who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  As each year passes, and we become more distanced from the events of the Second World War, it is tempting to think that lessons have been learnt, and that the human race has changed as a result of what took place.

Unfortunately, the reality around the world shows that we only learn if we actively engage with the issues, attitudes and actions of the past and commit to not repeating them.  For those who have lived through events in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, history will provide little consolation, and there are other areas of the world, including current conflicts, that could easily be added to that list.  The quote most commonly attributed to Edmund Burke that 'all it requires for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing' brings us back to the theme of ordinary people.  When faced with behaviour that is cruel and inhuman, do we stand aside and say that it has nothing to do with us, or do we intervene?  We see this played out at a mundane level in all of our lives, and while it hardly bears comparison, we still often find it hard to intervene positively - to show active good behaviour.

This is why the story of Sir Nicholas Winton has always fascinated me.  He has left such a mark on me from when I heard him speak, at the age of 99, to an audience of hundreds about his work in arranging transport to Britain for children from Czechoslovakia (the Czech Kindertransport) for 669 children in 1938.  Sir Nicholas did not reveal what he had done for decades, partly because he had been upset that the final train out of Prague was stopped at the station and partly because he did not think that others would be interested in what he had done.  His wife discovered his records, packed away in the attic, in 1988 and this led to recognition for Sir Nicholas, and one of the most moving pieces of television that you could ever see.

Sir Nicholas was an ordinary person, but one who did extraordinary things.  In the face of great obstacles, he showed incredible humanity and it is that humanity that I hope we can all learn from remembering some of the dreadful events of history.

Chris Townsend
Head, Felsted School