I started my blog with the idea that one person can make a difference in our world. Today I write about an individual who almost single-handedly saved more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust. That man was Nicholas Winton who became known as “Britain’s Schindler.”
Mr. Winton was born in London on May 19, 1909, to parents of German Jewish descent but was raised as a Christian. He was only 29 years old and working at the London Stock Exchange when he traveled to Czechoslovakia in 1938 with a friend. They saw the refugees from the region annexed by the Germany and feared the Nazis would soon invade Czechoslovakia and send its Jewish residents to concentration camps. Even though some people were assisting intellectuals and communists to leave Czechoslovakia, no one was assisting the Jewish children.
Accepting the difficult task, Mr. Winton arranged for trains to take the children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain; he then returned to Britain to persuade the officials there to accept the children if he could arrange for temporary foster homes for them as well as provide a guarantee of enough money for them to return to their home later. He became a one-man section of the Committee for Refugees.
The first twenty children were transported by airplane. The rest were brought out by train after the German army reached Prague in March 1939. Eight trains brought children out of Czechoslovakia, traveling through German to Britain. The last train was scheduled for September 3, 1939, but never left. Most of the 250 children on that train never survived the war.
Mr. Winton was instrumental in getting 669 children out of Czechoslovakia. These children were among the 10,000 mostly Jewish children taken to Britain on “Kindertransports” or children’s transports. Most of them never saw their parents again. Not all of the children were treated well in their foster homes, but they were saved from almost certain death.
Serving in the Royal Air Force during the war, Mr. Winton continued to support organizations assisting refugee. He continued his charitable work after the war in his home town.
Mr. Winton kept his good deeds secret for more than fifty years until his wife found documents in the attic of their home in 1988. She persuaded him to have his story documented. BBC tracked down many of “Nicky’s Children” and arranged for a prime-time television reunion. A film about his rescues entitled “Nicholas Winton – The Power of Good” won an International Emmy Award in 2002.
Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, called Winton “Britain’s Schindler” in reference to Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved many Jewish lives during World War II. Queen Elizabeth II knighted Mr. Winton in 2003 when he became Sir Nicholas George Winton. In 2014 the Czech Republic gave him the Order of the White Lion, the highest state honor in the nation.
Mr. Winton’s heroism is honored by two statues. A statue of Winton stands at Prague’s central station while the other statue stands at London’s Liverpool Street Station and commemorates the children of the Kindertransport. Well past his 100th birthday, Mr. Winton continued to attend Kindertransport events in Britain and the Czech Republic but never considered himself to be a hero because his life was never in danger.
Mr. Winton passed away on July 1, 2015, at the age of 106 in a hospital near his hometown of Maidenhead. His wife Grete preceded him in death in 1999. He is survived by two children – Barbara and Nick – as well as several grandchildren.
One person cannot do everything, but every person can do something that can change the world for someone else. We may not be able to save hundreds of people from death, but we can bring some happiness into the life of someone. What can you do today to make life a little better for another person? I encourage you to always be alert for opportunities to serve others. In doing so, you will do your part in making the world a better place for all of us.