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Nicholas Winton

Andrew P., Contributor

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Nicholas Winton was a British humanitarian born in Hampstead, London, on May 19, 1909. In the Christmas of 1938, Winton planned to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. He instead decided to visit Prague and help Martin Blake, whom ask him to assist in Jewish welfare work. When Winton arrived, he was asked to help in the camps where thousands of refugees were living in appalling conditions. From the events at the time, war seemed inevitable, and news of Kristallnacht, the bloody pogrom (violent attack) against German and Austrian Jews had reached Prague. Winton decided to take action:

I found out that the children of refugees and other groups of people who were enemies of Hitler weren’t being looked after. I decided to try to get permits to Britain for them…The parents desperately wanted at least to get their children to safety when they couldn’t manage to get visas for the whole family. I began to realize what suffering there is when armies start to march.”

His mission, Operation Kindertransport, was to evacuate thousands of children. Winton contacted the governments of nations he thought could take in the children, and only Sweden and his own government said yes. Great Britain promised to accept children under the age of 18 as long as he found homes and pay £50 for each child to pay for their return home. Winton planned to transport children to Great Britain and made up an organization “The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section” which consisted himself, his mother, his secretary, and a few volunteers. On March 14, 1939, Winton had his first success: the first transport of children left Prague for Britain by airplane, and he managed to organize seven more transports. The last trainload of children left on August 2, 1939, bringing the total of rescued children to 669. Lastly on September 1, 1939 the biggest transport of children was to take place, but unfortunately, on that day Hitler invaded Poland, closing all borders controlled by Germany. Winton has mentioned many times that the vision that haunts him is memory of the hundreds of children eagerly waiting to be transported.

For nearly 50 years after the happening, Winton didn’t tell anyone about this, not even his wife Grete. In 1988, Grete found a scrapbook from 1939 that held all the children’s photos, a list of their names, letters from some of their parents, and other documents. Later that year, the BBC program That’s Life aired a reunion between Winton and the children he rescued whom were all adults by then. As a result, Winton did not save just 669 people, but their further generations as well. Nicholas Winton is often recognized as the “British Schindler” and still remains as a hero even after his death in July 1, 2015.

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