Nicholas Winton 1909-2015: one man who did the right thing
Nicholas Winton has died. Winton was the Briton who became a lifesaver for hunderds of Jews. He arranged for trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain.
In 1938 he took a trip to Czechoslovakia. He realised the Germans were coming. He knew the Jews would be sent to concentration camps.
(Not just the Jews, of course. My wife’s grandfather shot dead a German SS officer who had come for him in Domažlice. He ran. In a hideous act of vengeance, the Germans sent his mother and 149 others to the death camps. J-J, by a long way round, joined the French resistance. But the life of the man who became Casablanca’s Charles Legrand is another story.)
Nicholas Winton tasked himself with saving the children. He arranged for passes and impeached British families to give the children a home. Not all of the children found happy homes. Some were used to cheap servants. But they lived.
They were the lucky ones.
On Sept. 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. A train scheduled to depart that day was to carry 250 children. They never made it out. But by then Winton had managed to save the lives of 669 children.
Few of the children that reached Britain on the Kindertransports ever saw their parents again.
PS: on a personal note, I grew up listening to the stories of the saved. Not just the children who had left all family love to start life among strangers in a foreign country. It would only be for a short while. Things would return to normal soon. We’ll come to bring you home. So went the stories as the children were sent away. My neighbour had been smuggled out of Denmark. A friend’s father had passed her off as his own daughter. When the Nazis knocked on the door of her home in Copenhagen, the man, a photographer by trade, hid her in his dark room. He placed her inside a vat of liquid and shut the lid. By luck, hope and above all human empathy and kindness she made it to Britain. She worked hard all her life. She made no fuss. She asked for nothing special. The saved never do. They just want to carry on. It’s up to the rest of us to let them…