Nicholas Winton

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Nicholas Winton was born in London in 1909 of German-Jewish parents. As an adult he became a banker, working initially in Hamburg, Germany and then Paris, before returning to Britain as a stockbroker.

In December 1938 Winton was due to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. A friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work in Prague, Czechoslovakia, suggested that he travel to visit him instead. On arrival in Prague, Winton was horrified at the treatment of Czech Jews at the hands of the Nazis. He decided that he had to help the Jews.

After Kristallnacht, the British government had extended the quota to allow child refugees into Britain. They had to have an agreed place to live and a sponsor, who would pledge £50, so that they would not be a burden on the British state. Subject to these conditions, Winton was able to take children from Prague to Britain.

Winton believed that saving children was more important than his career. He gave up his job to stay in Prague in order to organise the rescue of Czech Jewish children. Winton built up biographies of children whose parents had asked him to take them to safety. He placed advertisements of these children in England seeking families to take them in.

Between March and August 1939, Winton sent eight train loads of children to safety in Britain. Once in England they were placed with the families that had pledged their support.

The last train carrying 251 children was due to leave Prague on 1 September 1939. It never left the station. The German army had invaded Poland and Germany had closed all borders. The children got off the train and returned to their parents. Many were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust.

Nicholas Winton was responsible for saving the lives of 669 children. He never spoke of this episode in his life and certainly did not think of himself as a hero. It was only in 1988 that his wife found documents, letters and photographs, which told the story. Winton told his wife to destroy them.

Instead, Greta Winton sent them to Yad Vashem. In addition, there was a British television programme called ‘That’s Life’, which told the story. The programme makers contacted many of the children (now middle-aged British citizens) who made up some of the audience. Winton and his wife were invited to be members of the same audience.

During the programme, the presenter explained what Winton had done in 1939. She asked if anyone in the audience owed their lives to Winton. Over 20 members of the audience stood up and applauded him. For the first time since the war Winton met those he had saved.

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