Heroes of WWII: Nicholas Winton

heroes of WWII -

Heroes of WWII: Nicholas Winton

Born to parents of German-Jewish ancestry in May 1909, Nicholas George Winton lived a normal un-extraordinary life. That was until, he decided to make a change.

In December 1938 Winton, who by this time was a 29 year old stockbroker, was about to set off to Switzerland for a ski trip. These plans were quickly to be changed when a call came in from his friend Martin Blake. Blake asked Winton to change his flight destination from Switzerland to the Czech capital of Prague instead, and “Don’t bother to bring your skis,” Blake said.

At the time Blake was working as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, and knew that the refugee situation was only going to get worse. After Blake had showed Winton around the refugee camps, Winton became appalled at the conditions. Soon it became apparent that due to European immigration restrictions for Jews, it would be near impossible for the inhabitants of the camps to migrate to safety abroad.

There were already efforts in place in Germany and Austria to bring refugees to Britain, but no such scheme was in place in Czechoslovakia and the invading Nazi's were quickly closing in. Winton alongside associates, including Blake and two other friends named Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti were spurred into action to save the Czech children.

Winton set up an office in central Prague and began to take the details of the desperate Jewish families trying to get their children to safety. With a list of over 900 children Winton came back to the UK to get the plans set in motion. The British government agreed to provide Winton with the correct documents providing that he secured a £50 deposit per child (for their return journey) and a foster family in Britain.

The British government were slow to respond, leaving Winton to resort to forging the documents required to allow the children entry to the UK. With all challenges finally faced (some legally dubious), the first train of refugee children left Prague on May 14th 1939, after this there would be seven more successful transportations of children.

On September 1st 1939, the ninth departure of children had just left Prague central station, the same day as Germany invaded Poland and World War Two officially began.

“Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared,” Winton told The New York Times in 2015. “None of the 250 children aboard was ever seen again.”

“We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain,” Winton later recalled. “If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through.”

In total Nicholas Winton saved 669 or more children from the clutches of the invading German troops.
Throughout the rest of his life Winton didn't speak of the heroic actions he had performed. That was until in 1988 when Winton's wife, Grete Gjelstrup, came across a scrapbook in the attic detailing the names and photos of the children he saved. Gjelstrup convinced Winton to take the scrapbook to a Holocaust historian. From here the story was shared internationally and he was invited onto That's Life (as shown in the above clip), during the show Winton was able to meet some of the children he helped save.

When asked by a class doing a history project for advice, Sir Nicholas Winton said, “Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong. Be prepared every day to try to do some good.”

On the 1st of July 2015 Nicholas Winton passed away aged 106, this came 76 years to the day after 241 of the children he saved left Prague on a train.

1 comment

  • Tony Smith

    A truly great man who should never be forgotten.

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