By the war’s end, he saved 669 children, who would later refer to themselves as Winton’s Children.
On Wednesday, the 106-year-old Winton died in England, leaving behind a legacy that has stretched across generations.
Nicholas Winton never had an intention to become a hero of World War II. He was actually preparing to take a skiing vacation in Switzerland in 1938 when he received a phone call from a friend asking him to come to Prague immediately.
Winton arrived to find his friend asking for help in refugee camps, which had filled with Jews escaping the advancing Nazi regime. At the time, the Munich Agreement had just given part of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis, and Winton feared that the rest would soon be taken over.
When news of attacks on Austrian and German Jews in November, 1938, reached Winton, he decided to take action.
A website accompanying a documentary on Nicholas Winton explained how he acted to rescue children from the Holocaust.
The following is drom the book, Power of Good.
“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. 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.”
Winton would go on to save 669 children over the course of the war, but amazingly his act went almost unknown for the next 50 years. It wasn’t until his wife found a scrapbook in 1988 filled with names and pictures of those he saved that Winton opened up about it.
Winton’s story spread later that year, thanks to a BBC program called That’s Life. Winton sat in the audience as it was revealed that the woman sitting next to him was one of the people he saved. He wiped away tears as he held the woman’s hand, and the host then asked if there was anyone else in the audience who had been saved by Nicholas Winton. A full six rows of the audience, the entire section surrounding Nicholas, stood up.
[Image via New York Times]