"British Schindler" Nicolas Winton Saved 700 Children From The Holocaust, Then Kept It Quiet For 50 Years
After saving hundreds of children from the Holocaust, Nicholas Winton has been dubbed the "British Schindler" — but has kept it quiet for 50 years, because he didn't think it was worth recognition. Sir Nicholas, who celebrated 105th birthday on Monday, will be awarded with the Order of the White Lion, which is the Czech Republic's highest honor, for safely transporting 669 mostly-Jewish children to Britain, months before World War II broke out. If not for Winton's efforts, more than 5,000 decedents of the saved children likely wouldn't have been born.
In 1939, the British stockbroker was planning a Switzerland ski holiday. But what Sir Nicholas read about refugees in Prague was enough for him to travel there, skipping his vacation, to find out what was actually going on. During his three-week visit — the only amount of time he could take off from his job — he realized the fate the refugees would likely face if they stayed. They had been driven away from their homes in Czech Sudetenland after the Nazi troops invaded the region in late 1938.
Sir Nicholas organized "kindertransports" to Britain, taking advantage of the fact that the government allowed children under 17 years old to travel there as long as they knew where they were staying, and had a deposit down for a ticket home. Sir Nicholas found citizens to take in the refugee children, and arranged for their transport even after he was back in the UK. The kindertransports continued for nine months until war broke out. Most of the refugee children never saw their parents again.
It wasn't until 1988 that Sir Nicholas' secret was let out of the bag, when his wife found documents with refugee names and addresses. During an interview with Czech television just before his birthday, Sir Nicholas says, "I find it a bit embarrassing in a way; to me, I'm just an ordinary person."
The hundreds of children saved and their more than 5,000 descendants are now known as "Nicky's family." According to The Guardian, Sir Nicholas, who only began to need at-home assistance last year, arrived at his birthday celebration in London at the Czech embassy to find that some of "Nicky's family" traveled from all different parts of the world just to celebrate his birthday, much to his astonishment. "I am always surprised every time I come here to see all kinds of people who have come really very great distances to say hello. As far as I am concerned, it is only Anno Domini that I am fighting — I am not ill, I am just old and doddery."
Czech President Milos Zeman recently wrote to Sir Nicholas about the award to be bestowed upon him, saying he gave the 669 children "the greatest possible gift: the chance to live and to be free." A special ceremony will take place on Oct. 28 at the Czech capital for Sir Nicholas, where he will receive his award.
He may not think he deserves the recognition, but we certainly disagree. Hats off to you, Sir Nicholas.