In 1988, Nicholas Winton's wife discovered a scrapbook in the attic of their home.
She flipped through the pages and found 669 stories of humanity, bravery and survival. The book turned out to be a record of an operation her husband pulled off decades earlier that saved 669 Jewish children who were destined for Nazi concentration camps and almost certain death in the Holocaust.
The sequence of events that led to Winton's decision to take on such a colossal responsibility is both fascinating and inspiring. He was an ordinary man — a 28-year-old stockbroker from London. The only thing that separated him from the rest of the world's population was his humanity and compassion for those in need.
He passed away on July 1st at the age of 106. As news outlets from every corner of the globe honor his life, many highlight a powerful quote The New York Times printed in 2001: his response when asked why he risked his life for the children.
"One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that," Winton said. "Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all."
Winton's obituary in The New York Times reported that his work involved "dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money."
But his risks paid off in ways he probably could have never even imagined. The hundreds of people he saved, who refer to themselves as "Winton's children," made it out of Nazi occupied territory alive — and went on to have children of their own.
There's a Jewish Talmudic expression often used to put the value of one human life into perspective:
That point could not be better illustrated than it was seven decades after World War II when Winton came face to face with the children he saved and many of their descendants — that number has now surpassed 6,000 according to The New York Times, and will continue to grow as those 6,000 build families.
There's no doubt that Winton was uniquely kindhearted — and remarkably driven by his compassion. But his resolve to help people in need is a quality that everyone could emulate.
Modern heroes don't just exist in action films or obituaries. They are real, ordinary people with the desire to do extraordinary things. Winton's story is a reminder to take action — to be that hero even if it just means speaking out against an injustice.
"I work on the motto that if something's not impossible, there must be a way to do it," Winton explained on "60 Minutes."
We encounter (or at least read about) people in need on a regular basis. It is our responsibility as humans to take matters into our own hands — to strive to leave as noble a legacy as Winton's.
It might sound overwhelming, but it's certainly not impossible.