Hero arranged for trains to save Czechoslovakia’s Jewish children
Sir Nicholas Winton turned 105 years old May 19. He is known for saving at least 669 children from the Holocaust and is sometimes called the British Schindler.
His deeds went largely unknown until 1988 when his wife, Grete, found a scrapbook detailing his efforts to get the mostly Jewish children out of German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
Winton organized train transports for the children from Czechoslovakia to Britain in 1939. He secured departure permits for them from Germans, entry permits from the British authorities and admission to British families. These children would otherwise have ended up in concentration camps with a tiny chance of surviving.
In all, eight trains with children were able to reach Britain. A ninth train was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, but could not leave because World War II had started. The extended families of those who were saved now numbers more than 6,000 people.
Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.
In January of this year he again was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Czech lower house. He was first nominated in 2008.
He became known to the public after the BBC television made a documentary about him in 1988.
Slovak-born director Matej Mináč has shot several films based on Winton’s story: the 1999 feature film All My Loved Ones (1999), the 2002 Emmy-winning documentary Power of Good: Nicholas Winton (2002) and the 2011 documentary Nicky’s Family (2011), with acted sequences.
In 1998, he received a high Czech state decoration, the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. An asteroid was named for him in 1998 as well by two Czech astronomers at the Kleť Observatory in south Bohemia.
His fame has spread to the US as well. In 2013 he was honored with a plaque in Illinois. Two of the people he saved were on hand for the ceremony, but Winton’s doctors urged him not to travel. Winton has long been a member of Rotary International, a service organization. He was the first inductee to the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame, located in the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois.
On the 70th anniversary of the rescue trains in 2009, a statue of Sir Nicholas was unveiled at Prague’s main train station Hlavní nádraží. A train with some of people that he saved went from Prague to London to mark the anniversary. Winton met the arriving train.
Another statue is at the Maidenhead railway station in England, where Sir Nicholas is a member and former president of the Maidenhead Rotary Club.
For his 100th birthday Winton flew in a micro-light plane at the White Waltham Airfield in Berkshire, UK. Judy Leden, a world champion hang-glider and micro-light pilot whose mother was saved by him, flew to the airport from Derbyshire to take him on a flight.