‘English Schindler’ Nicholas Winton Dies at 106

Nicholas Winton, a Briton who helped 669 Jewish people escape from Nazis in  Czechoslovakia during World War II. 

Published01 Jul 2015, 09:57 PM IST
World
3 min read

He was just a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when he faced the challenge of a lifetime. Traveling with a friend to Czechoslovakia in 1938, as the drums of impending war echoed around Europe, Nicholas Winton was hit by a key realization.

The country was in danger and no one was saving its Jewish children.

Winton would almost single-handedly save more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust, earning himself the label “Britain’s Schindler.” He died Wednesday at age 106 in a hospital near Maidenhead, his hometown west of London, his family said.

He arranged trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain, battling bureaucracy at both ends and saving them from almost certain death. He then kept quiet about his exploits for a half-century.

Nicholas Winton, aged 101, holds flowers while sitting on a stage after the premiere of the movie “Nicky’s family” which is based on his life story in Prague. (Photo: Reuters)
Nicholas Winton, aged 101, holds flowers while sitting on a stage after the premiere of the movie “Nicky’s family” which is based on his life story in Prague. (Photo: Reuters)

His daughter, Barbara, said she hoped her father would be remembered for his wicked sense of humor and charity work as well as his wartime heroism. And she hoped his legacy would be inspiring people to believe that even difficult things were possible.

He believed that if there was something that needed to be done you should do it. Let’s not spend too long agonizing about stuff. Let’s get it done.
– Barbara Winton

British Prime Minister David Cameron said “the world has lost a great man.” Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, said Winton “was a giant of moral courage and determination, and he will be mourned by Jewish people around the world.”

In Israel, President Reuven Rivlin said Winton will be remembered as a hero from “those darkest of times.”

He was a man who valued human life above all else, and there are those who are alive today who are testament to his dedication and sacrifice.
– Reuven Rivlin, President, Israel

Nicholas Winton, centre, who organized the Winton Train rescue of children 70 years ago at Liverpool Street station in London, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009. (Photo: AP)
Nicholas Winton, centre, who organized the Winton Train rescue of children 70 years ago at Liverpool Street station in London, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009. (Photo: AP)

Schindler’s List

Born in London on May 19, 1909, to parents of German Jewish descent, Winton himself was raised as a Christian.

Late in 1938, a friend contacted him and told him to cancel the skiing holiday they had planned and travel instead to Czechoslovakia.

Alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland region recently annexed by Germany, Winton and his friend feared – correctly – that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and that its Jewish residents would be sent to concentration camps.

While some in Britain were working to get Jewish intellectuals and communists out of Czechoslovakia, no one was trying to save the children — so Winton took that task upon himself.

Returning to Britain, Winton persuaded British officials to accept children, as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee was paid for each one to ensure they had enough money to return home later. At the time, their stays were only expected to be temporary.

Setting himself up as the one-man children’s section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton set about finding homes and guarantors, drawing up lists of about 6,000 children, publishing pictures to encourage British families to agree to take them.

The first 20 children arrived by plane, but once the German army reached Prague in March 1939, they could only be brought out by train.

In the months before the outbreak of World War II, eight trains carried children from Czechoslovakia through Germany to Britain. In all, Winton got 669 children out.

This video of Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of jews from the Nazis, will break your heart.

We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!