July 12, 2015
Sir Nicholas Winton — The British Schindler

Who is more vulnerable than a child? And how bad must a situation be for parents give them up, to hand their children to a perfect stranger and send them away to an unknown future in an unknown place?

In 1938, Nicholas Winton went to Prague instead of on the ski vacation he had planned. He saw the conditions affecting the refugees from Adolf Hitler's conquest of the Sudetanland, and he recognized the threat they faced. He couldn't save the adults, but he found he could bend the rules enough to get children out.

He started making arrangements for what became known as the Kindertransport. Word of this spread and refugee parents besieged him, asking him to save their children. Most of these parents died during the war, many of them in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. But for Nicholas Winton, their children would have died with them.

Winton arranged eight transports — eight trains — taking children from Prague to ports through which they were sent to England. A ninth transport was ready to leave Prague on September 1, 1939, when World War II broke out and trains could no longer leave Nazi-occupied regions. A total of 669 Czech children were rescued by means of the eight successful trains. Their operation was so rushed that many lacked travel and immigration documents issued by the British government. Nevertheless, Winton and his small group saw to it that they reached England and were placed in homes there.

Winton's actions weren't secret, but he "just didn't talk about them." And so his story was virtually unknown for fifty years, until his wife discovered a scrapbook in the attic, identifying and showing the children he saved. That resulted in him being featured on the BBC TV program That's Life in 1988, and his being knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth. Today there are more than 6000 people who owe their lives to his actions in 1939.

Sir Nicholas Winton in 2009 surrounded by a few of the 669 children he saved.

Sir Nicholas Winton died peacefully on July 1, 2015, at the age of 106, and the world is poorer for his loss.

Category: History

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