Remembering Sir Nicholas Winton

Jul 5, 2015 By Aarathi
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Every once in a while, we come across extraordinary acts of courage by a single person. 

During the horrifying period of the Second World War and Hitler’s crusade against the Jews, Nicholas Winton managed to rescue 669 children from Czechoslovakia and bring them safely to England.

Sir Nicholas Winton died on July 1, 2015, at the age of 106. Ironically it was also the anniversary of the departure of a train in 1939 carrying 241 children. Sir Nicholas saved the children from almost certain death and brought them to Britain. A reluctant hero, he went on to keep his story quiet for half a century.

He organised a total of eight trains from Prague, with some other forms of transport also set up from Vienna. Sir Nicholas Winton was knighted in 2003.

Europe: A Time Of Danger

By 1938, Europe had been experiencing an increased number of attacks on Jews in a hate crime propagated by the Nazi government.

With no end in sight, Jewish refugee agencies requested the British government to permit them to bring in unaccompanied Jewish children under 17 years of age. This was to be only temporary until the situation in their home countries was resolved. This request was granted, on condition that each child had a deposit of £50 made in advance, so as to ensure their return.

Kindertransport, meaning ‘children transport’ in German, was then born. Children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other Nazi-occupied regions were transported to the United Kingdom. There they were either placed with foster families or in hostels. Later, it was found that many of these children were the only survivors of their family.

Nicky's Mission

Nicholas Winton was born in 1909 at London to German-Jewish parents. In 1938 around Christmas, 29-year-old Nicky who was a stockbroker by then was about to leave for a skiing holiday. Suddenly, Martin Blake, a good friend, contacted him from Czechoslovakia, asking him to travel there to help political refugees on the run from the Nazis. And Nicholas agreed.

Nicky spent his entire three-week holiday in the capital city of Prague where he saw the situation first-hand. Once back in England, he immediately started organizing the evacuation of children from the Czech region. From advertising for foster homes to arranging for necessary permits, Nicky worked tirelessly. He enlisted the help of his mother as well as a large network of friends to place the children in foster homes.

By August 1939, 669 children had found their way across, helped by Nicky and his friends. Sadly, the last group of children due to leave Prague at the beginning of September could not do so – World War II broke out, and swallowed them up.

Winton did not discuss his mission with his wife, Grete. It was only when she found a scrapbook in 1988, with names of the rescued children, their (lost) parents and the foster families that had taken them in, that his heroism came to light. Nicky has received several awards in Britain and the Czech Republic. Yet another, the highest Czech honor called the Order of the White Lion, will be presented to him in October of this year by Czech President Milos Zeman, in a ceremony at Prague. 

Have you heard of others who executed similar missions? Do try to read the inspiring stories of Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, Irena Sendler, Chiune Sugihara, Wilfrid Israel to name a few.

Courtesy Guardian, ushmm.org