Nicholas Winton and Britain’s wartime prime minister receive highest state honors from Czech president
Prague, Oct. 28 (ČTK) — Czech President Miloš Zeman today bestowed the Order of the White Lion, the highest state decoration, on Sir Nicholas Winton, a Briton who saved 669 Jewish kids from the Nazis, and posthumously on former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a main player in Britain’s fight against the Nazi Germany.
Winton, 105, accepted the decoration in person at a Prague Castle ceremony.
For health reasons, he came to Prague for a few hours only. His family said he had been looking forward to visiting the city very much.
The Order of the White Lion, 1st class, was made out to Churchill for his merits benefiting the Czech Republic. It was received by his grandson Nicholas Soames.
Zeman said he regrets the highest Czech award has been awarded to the two personalities so belatedly. Nevertheless, better late than never, he added.
Zeman said in his capacity as president he has given awards to many people already, but none filled him with as much respect and humbleness as the decoration of the two great British men today.
Winton in 1939 saved 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia by organizing their transport with trains from the then-Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to Britain.
The first train with left Prague in May 1939. The last one, with 250 children, was to depart Sept. 1, 1939, but the Nazi prohibited its departure as the war had already broken out.
Winton today met seven of the children he saved. He left for the Evropa Hotel on Prague’s central Wenceslas Square, where he stayed before World War II.
Zeman said Winton also plans to have a glass of Czech beer before his late afternoon departure for Britain.
Accepting the award for Churchill, Soames said on behalf of his family Churchill would have been proud of it. He said Churchill was a supporter and admirer of Czechoslovakia in periods of both peace and war.
Soames pointed out his grandfathers’ statement on radio in 1941, that in the course of history, no European nation had shown a stronger will to overcome obstacles than the Czechs and that it was only thanks to Czech soldiers in Britain that the British succeeded in winning the Battle of Britain.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965) was British prime minister 1940–45 and 1951–1955. He was one of the key figures in World War II. In critical moments, he restored British people’s hope in victory and, together with allied politicians, he contributed to the military defeat of Germany.
In March 1946, Churchill gave a well-known speech at the university in Fulton, United States, saying that “From Stettin [Szczecin] in the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent,” and calling on the democratic world to unite against the danger of communism.
The Order of the White Lion is the Czech Republic’s highest state award, shaped as a red five-point star with a silver double-tailed lion in the middle. On the reverse is the coat of arms of the Czech Republic and the motto from the presidential seal: “Truth Prevails” (Pravda vítězí).
The order has political and military variations.
A number of the present and former heads of state are among its holders. Apart from the heads of the neighboring countries, they include former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Spanish King Juan Carlos, British Queen Elizabeth II, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Czech President Václav Havel.
Many of the order’s military variant holders are freedom and anti-Nazi fighters.