Acclaimed author and illustrator Peter Sís movingly celebrates Nicholas Winton, a “quiet hero of the Holocaust” in Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued.
After briefly depicting Winton’s childhood in England, Sís turns to his years as a young man in Europe, swiftly setting the stage and laying out the stakes: Germany, under Nazi rule, is beginning to flex its military might. Instead of going on a ski vacation in the winter of 1938, “Nicky" accepts a friend’s invitation to come to Prague and changes the course of history.
Next, Sís introduces 10-year-old Vera Diamantova, an ardent cat lover in Czechoslovakia in 1938. When the German army marches into the Sudetenland, a region on the Czech-German border, Diamantova’s parents decide to put her on a train to England. Her mother has heard about an Englishman who helps children escape the Nazis. “The Englishman,” Sís emphasizes, using a larger font for this sentence, “was Nicky.” Winton ultimately saved a total of 669 children.
Sís relates these events with expert pacing as he juggles Winton’s extraordinary feat; Diamantova’s departure from her home and subsequent new life in England, as well as the loss of her family to Nazi concentration camps; a timeline of the war itself; and the quiet lives both led after the war ended. Winton "never told anyone about the children,” Sís writes. Nicky & Vera concludes with an appearance Winton made on the popular BBC television program “That’s Life” in the late 1980s that saw him reunite with some of the now grown children he saved.
Detailed, intricate illustrations on a muted palette of earth tones capture it all. Sís frequently and movingly incorporates smaller drawings inside of larger images. In the blueish spread in which Diamantova arrives at the train station in London, Sís shows a silhouette of her figure from behind; he fills the silhouette with colorful scenes of the family and home she left behind, a beloved cat and horse and the landscape of her home country.
In a closing note that provides more detail about Winton and Diamantova, Sís writes that he always revered more celebrated individuals, but “had not paid enough attention to the reluctant and quiet heroes.” This tenderly crafted, visually layered and deeply reverent book will help young readers do just that.