Humans can do evil things. But they can also do wonderful things, and do them in wonderful ways. This is the story of a case of the latter. This is a page about history... but I've written it in honor of a man who did wonderful things... and then behaved in a wonderful way. And to say "Couldn't we all try to be more like this?"
As the 1930's passed, the Nazi Party gathered strength. What that could mean for European Jews was clear to some people.
It was clear to Nicholas Winton. And he decided to do something about the threat. He would help get Jewish children out of Prague. to England.
Mr. Winton was not an obvious person for the task. It was not his job. (He was a young Englishman, making money in Prague, in the financial world.) He was a Christian, not a Jew. Born 1909. Attended Stowe School.
But he didn't dismiss the threat. He didn't leave doing something about it to other people. He rolled up his sleeves and did what he could. He Made A Difference. Be like Nicholas Winton.
I count myself blessed that I happened to be watching BBC TV one ordinary evening in 1988. There were no video recorders in those days. You saw a program when it was transmitted, or repeated, or you didn't see it. I saw this as a live broadcast. It was just "an item" in what was a popular silly "variety show". There are clips in...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKkgO06bAZk. I think that if I could ask you to pass ONE link to your friends, that would be it. By all means challenge that, if you can find me saying the same of any other link. You can use (and pass on) https://bit.ly/BeLikeThisMan if that's easier than PKkgO0... ! It takes you to the same place.
Getting the kids out is what he is remembered for. He should be remembered for getting the kids into the UK. And the 248 who died needlessly should be remembered too.
Not only did he take care of the huge problems of finding parents who would trust him with their children, of laying on the transport, of finding people to take the children in... but he also had to raise the money for a huge bond to "buy" an entry visa for each of them. The British government wasn't having the land overrun with 6 year old "foreign" refugees. £50- 1938 pounds- per child. In 2024, something like £2500/ US$3170... So, total funds raised, just for the visas to rescue refugee children: £2,300,000 (US$2.9 million) (ref:Visa costs)
The time it took to raise the money limited the flow of children out of Prague. A final train with, (again from memory), more than 200 children WAS filled, DID depart Prague... but the Nazis were already on the border. The children disappeared. If finding funds for the entry visas had taken 3 days less, they would not have died.
Sir Nicholas lived from 1909-2015... yes, he was 106 when he died. And mentally bright in 2014, when presented with a high honor by the Czech Republic. (You may remember the mental brightness, if you saw his comments on that occasion... sadly, I can only find YouTube clips of the formal parts of the proceedings. The mental brightness shone later, in more informal, self deprecating remarks when he was speaking from his wheelchair to some members of the press. Something along the lines of "perhaps it is a pity I have lived so long. It's given you the chance to make all this fuss of my little effort." And it was said with completely convincing sincerity and humor. Me? I'd be bitter it took so long. (There had been some other honors previously, it must be admitted... but not before 1988.))
He married from 1948. His wife died in 1999. They raised three children of their own.
And 669 children were saved from the Holocaust through his efforts.
But he didn't speak of them, at all, for many, many years.
The story began to emerge when his wife came across a scrap-book while cleaning the attic. She asked him, "What's this, Nicky?" In it were the names of the children, of their parents, and of the families who gave the children homes in the UK. He may not have spoken of it... but he kept the records. He didn't interact with the children in their new lives.
Sadly, in some ways, many of the children were toddlers when they left Prague. They were raised "as British", "not troubled" with their backgrounds. Many did not / do not know that Sir Nicholas saved them. Or that they were adopted. Perhaps as well? They grew up thinking that they had parents, grandparents.... when in fact in many cases their biological families were killed by the Nazis/
Oh dear. I have become emotional, again, just typing this up, and it is far from the first time I've told the story.
This memorial was created, in the 1990 or thereabouts, at the Prague train station from which his Kindertransport trains departed. (I obtained the photo from Wikipedia, edited it a bit. The sculptor was Ludek Kovár.)
His own family: He was born 1909. Married 1948... presumably the war delayed that? Raised three children. Wife died 1999.
In a related vein: If it is ever revived, or made into a film, see Tom Stoppard's breath-taking play Leopoldstadt. Ostensibly, not all about the holocaust... though in some ways it is. Dr Zhivago-esque in scope and scale. Not utterly grim, but not "The Sound of Music", either. It also happens to be largely autobiographical.
Ask the Washington, DC Holocaust Museum why his contribution doesn't appear in their (in some ways excellent.. lots of filtering choices available, naive-user-friendly interface) database of people who saved some of the Jews threatened by Hitler. The museum didn't even deign to reply to my enquiry. I gather it is because some family members repudiated Judaism when Nicholas was a baby.
Book: Sir Nicholas's daughter Barbara wrote a book- One Life: The True Story of Sir Nicholas Winton. She wrote it near the end of his life, in time to give him the first copy. It was published to coincide with his 105th birthday. (Abebooks.com (or ... co.uk) is an excellent source for books, by the way.)
(He died 1 July 2015, aged 106, in Slough, England.)
Welll built website: (I think this was put together sometime between 2015 and 2023)... It seems to be from an authoritative source...
Film:Watch or buy...
(The short YouTube cited above was an adaptation of material from this longer film.)
Helping refugee today:The following are commended at nicholaswinton.com ...
In the UK, Safe Passage is a charity that helps child refugees reach safety.
Across the world, The International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps people affected by humanitarian crises to survive, recover and rebuild their lives. (They have local affiliates in many country to facilitate tax efficient giving.)
To them, I would add...Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders. (They also have local affiliates.)
Visa costs: The UK government would not issue a visa to enter the UK until a £50 bond had been lodged with them. The taxpayer had the use of that money until such time as the child left the country again. Of course, in many cases, the child didn't, and the taxpayer kept the money. A sensible precaution, in some circumstances. One would hope that the laws are different today, and refugees are distinguished from people pretending they want to make a temporary visit when that is not the reality.
The "£50" is something I've seen frequently. It is repeated in https://www.nicholaswinton.com/exhibition, which is also the source of the estimate that in 2025 that would be £2500.
Remember that although the children were in Prague, many had fled from Germany. Losing English sons, husbands, lovers to German weapons in the horrors of WW I were raw memories for the people asked to fund the visas. Take 20 years off of the year you are reading this. If you'd lost a son back in whatever year that takes you to, would you be over it yet?
And, in an era of naked bigotry, they were Jewish, as well.
669 children were rescued. All of the paperwork, including payment for the bonds, had been completed for a further 250 children who boarded a train... but the Nazis prevented it from leaving Prague. 248 of the children are presumed to have gone to death camps. Had the funds come in sooner, the paperwork completed just a little more quickly, these children too might have survived. I've included them in the total raised, if you wondered how 669 x £50 could equal £2.3 million.
When you try to grasp the enormity of what he... and the people he inspired or pushed... accomplished remember: No only did he have to get the paperwork done (without email or word processors) to get the entry visas, he also had to get each child an exit visa.
Towards the end of the effort, the exit visas had to be stamped by the Gestapo.
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