A mission of mercy: Tributes pour in for the man who saved almost 7000 children from Nazi gas chambers
It was a celebration by his children - “Nicky’s children” as they call themselves - to the 105-year-old retiree from Berkshire.
The descendants of 669 children, who were rescued from Eastern Europe on the eve of the Second World War by Nicholas Winton, a former stockbroker, gathered at the Czech Embassy in London to celebrate the birthday and honour the life of the man who gave them their lives.
It was in late 1938 when the young Nicholas, whose family was of German and Jewish descent, took three weeks leave from his stockbroking business to visit Prague and see for himself the status of refugees pouring in from the Czech Sudentenland after the Nazi invasion in the autumn of that year.
Realising that the declaration of war was a matter of time, he immediately set about organising the evacuation of the children of Jewish refugee families. He arranged to have the children transported to Britain on what was called the Kindertransport train, doing as much of the paperwork during the three weeks he was in Prague. He continued doing this after his return, facilitating the evacuation of eight trainloads of children who he helped find foster homes for. His rescue mission continued until the outbreak of war in September 1939, when the last train carrying children was cancelled. The families of many of the evacuated children were later sent to concentration camps and the gas chambers.
Mr. Winton kept his rescue mission a secret, even from his wife. A chance discovery by her of the cache of documents pertaining to the rescue brought the story to light. It was broken to the world by the BBC in a 1988 programme called That's Life. The 90-year old was invited to the studios but not told that the rest of the audience comprised his “children.” When the surprise was sprung, an emotional Mr. Winton turned to face his family – and receive their standing ovation.
Mr. Winton was knighted in 2002. In 2013, he received the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Medal at the Embassy of Sweden in London. Later this year, the Czech Embassy in London will give him the highest Czech state honour, the Order of the White Lion.
Amongst the gifts he received on his 105th birthday is a book on his life by his daughter Barbara Winton with the title If its not impossible, then it can be done.