Nicholas Winton (Wertheim), who helped to organize the Czech kindertransport that saved 669 children, most of them Jews, from Nazism on the eve of World War II, was born to German Jewish parents, converts to Christianity, in London on this date in 1909. Winton was a London stockbroker when he was approached by a friend to establish, in 1938, an organization to aid Jewish children in Prague who were at risk from the Nazis. After November’s Kristallnakht, the nationwide German pogrom, the British Parliament agreed to permit refugees under 17 into Britain, but the Netherlands had by then officially closed its borders. Winton nevertheless successfully negotiated their transit. He found families in Great Britain willing to take in Jewish children and brought in 669. A final group of 250 children, scheduled to leave Czechoslovakia on September 1, 1939, were stopped by the Nazi invasion of Poland, and eventually perished in the Holocaust. “We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain,” Winton later said. “If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling.” At the start of World War II, Winton was a conscientious objector serving with the Red Cross, but he later joined the Royal Air Force. He took no credit for his rescue work until his wife Grete discovered a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988. Eventually, eighty living “Winton’s children” were located by the BBC. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2002, and a statue dedicated to his rescue work has stood in the main Prague railway station since 2009.
“I found out that the conditions which were laid down for bringing in a child were chiefly that you had a family that was willing and able to look after the child, and £50, which was quite a large sum of money in those days, that was to be deposited at the Home Office. The situation was heartbreaking. Many of the refugees hadn’t the price of a meal. Some of the mothers tried desperately to get money to buy food for themselves and their children. 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.” -Nicholas Winton