At the age of 29, Nicholas Winton, a London Stockbroker, took a trip to Prague, Czechoslovakia because of an invitation of a friend. His friend from the British Embassy in Prague asked Winton to please help the British team in erecting refugee camps. Soon after his arrival, Winton discovered what he must do and what he did made a mark on history even though Winton would never acknowledge the good he did.
Ultimately, Winton only spent about two months in Prague. While there he was shocked at how quickly refugees from all over Europe were flooding in trying to escape the Nazi advance. He was heartbroken when he saw the children, tired and fearful. Winton said, “The commission was dealing with the elderly and vulnerable and people in camps kept telling me that nobody was doing anything for the children.” What better person to help the children than the man who initially saw the problem? Indeed. And Winton took action.
At a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square in Prague, Winton set up an office for his good work. It did not take long for word to get out that there was an “Englishman of Wenceslas Square” and parents nearly broke down his door. They begged and pleaded with Winton to please help them evacuate their children to safer land. The children just had to leave the country before the horrible Nazis got a hold of them. Winton kept a list and constantly added names to it. He created the Czech Kindertransport in 1939 before he had to leave for Britain again.
Once back in his native Britain, Winton started at once to organize transports out of Czechoslovakia for the children. He worked with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. He worked day and night to get as many children as possible on those transports. He made a deal that for each child he wanted to bring over he had to find a foster home and a 50 pound guarantee to help pay for the child’s expenses for the foster home. On top of all that he had to raise money to cover the cost of the transport when the parents of the children couldn’t cover the whole cost.
Winton spent nine months, working against the clock of invasion, working on the transports and he was able to get 669 children on eight trains from Prague to London. A small group went on a plain to Sweden. Unfortunately, he last and largest train was to leave on September 3, 1939 which was the day Britain entered the war. The train never left the station. The 250 children on board that train were never seen again. If only that train had left one day earlier. None of the children who were to leave that day survived the war and ultimately, 15,000 Czech children were killed.
Winton watched from a distance as the trains released the exhausted children into the arms of their new families in Britain. The children were finally safe from the murder and mayhem that was falling upon their families back home. One of the children recalled, “He rescued the greater part of the Jewish children of my generation of Czechoslovakia. Very few of us met our parents again: they perished in concentration camps. Had we not been spirited away, we would have been murdered alongside them.”
Winton was a hero and many have called him the “Oskar Schindler of Britain.” He was awarded the title of Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1983 and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. On top of all that he was given a place alongside the “Righteous Among the Nations,” a great honor bestowed only a handful of non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Holocaust. Winton did not understand all the accolades. He merely said, “I just saw what was going on and did what I could to help.”
Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of Jews
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Sobibor: The Revolt and Escape That Worked
Varian Fry: The American Who Saved Jews
Kurt Gerstein: The German Spy Who Infiltrated the Nazi SS