In December 1938, Nicholas Winton, a 29 year old stockbroker, was planning a ski trip when his friend contacted him saying, “I’m in Prague. I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help. Don’t bother bringing your skis.”
Upon arrival in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Winton witnessed the horror of the treatment of Jewish families by the Nazi Gestapo. He began to work alongside his friend at a refugee camp for Jews fleeing annexed Western Czechoslovakia.
Winton was particularly disturbed by the treatment of Jewish children and, feeling the inevitably impending war, began to fundraise and organize a means of evacuating the children from Czechoslovakia to England.
For the following nine months, Winton assisted in operating the Czech Kindertransport. A total of eight trains carried children from Czechoslovakia through Germany into Holland. From there, the children were transported by ship to England and placed in foster homes in London.
Winton recorded the names and photos of 669 children whom he safely placed in the hands of English homes, away from Nazi violence in Czechoslovakia.
However, the last train to be sent out of Czechoslovakia on September 1, 1939, carrying 251 children, was intercepted by the Gestapo due to Nazi armies closing the nation’s borders. The children were never again seen. This devastating circumstance tormented Winton, and he never spoke of his involvement with the Kindertransport for the next 50 years.
In 1988, Winton’s wife, Grete, discovered his scrapbook containing all the information regarding his involvement in the Kindertransport. Upon this discovery, Winton’s friends and family convinced him to appear on the BBC program “That’s Life” to tell his story.
Winton was unknowingly seated surrounded by approximately 80 of “his children”—those whose lives he saved in his work during WWII. Click here to watch the video.
Since the world heard Nicholas Winton’s touching story, he received international recognition and honor. These awards include but are not limited to: Order of the British Empire (1983), Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Class IV (1998), Knight Bachelor (UK) (2002), Pride of Britain Awards (2003), Recognition H.R.538 from U.S. House of Representatives (2007), Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, Grade I (2008), Nobel Peace Prize nomination (2008), British Hero of the Holocaust (2010), and the Golden Goody Award for Social Good (2013).
Winton has been recognized through media not only through the “That’s Life” special, but also in an Emmy-winning documentary entitled “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good” (2002), narrated by one of “Winton’s kids” Joe Schlesinger, and also the 2011 documentary “Nicky’s Family.”
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the last Kindertransport mission, on September 1, 2009, the dedicated “Winton Train” made a voyage from the Prague Main Railway Station toward London via the original Kindertransport route. Several “Winton children” and their descendents were on board for the journey. At this time, Winton’s statue was also unveiled at the station.
Today, Winton’s scrapbook can be found at the Yad Vashem in Israel. On May 19, 2014, Winton celebrated his 105th birthday. He wears a ring given to him by the Winton children, inscribed with a line from the Talmud which reads, “Save one life, save the world” as a token of the appreciation for the gift of life Winton’s courageous acts provided for so many.