Yesterday, the news broke that Sir Nicholas Winton had passed away peacefully at his home, in Maidenhead England.
106 years old, Winton is a name that far too few are familiar with. This generous sole was Knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth II for immeasurable acts of human decency.
For this man was responsible for saving the lives of 669 children during the Holocaust.
The story of Sir Nicholas was humbly hidden for nearly 50 years and would have remained so, had his wife Grete, who passed away in 1993, not found the documents chronicling his mission and handed them to a Holocaust historian.
It was then that the historian was able to piece together Sir Nicholas’ astonishing achievements.
His work started in 1938, when his friend Martin Blake, who was fighting to help Czechoslovakian refugees, asked for his help. It was from here that Sir Nicholas began the harrowing task of saving children from being sent to various concentration camps.
Winton personally managed to register 600 children and had details of 5000 more. It was not long after the initial planning that Winton returned to England to appeal for donations to fund their rescue mission. Soon, volunteers began to help and the group, known as “British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section” found thousands of families to take on the rescued children.
Whilst funding was inadequate, Winton often paid for the transfer and registration of many of the children, and the committee often forged visa’s to ensure their swift escape.
In March 1939, Winton sent the first train from Prague, bound for England, with 20 children onboard. Following this successful mission, eight more trains were scheduled to transport the precious cargo with a total of 900 children on board.
In a devastating moment for Winton, the last train carrying 250 children, never made it to England. The train, set to depart on September 1, 1939 fell on the same day that Hitler invaded Poland and all borders were closed.
“Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared,” Winton said in a New York Times interview. “None of the 250 children aboard were ever seen again.”
However defeating this loss was for Winton, he still managed to allow 669 children to live well into adulthood. In an incredible moment, Winton was given a chance to see these children again, when a BBC program invited Winton into an auditorium filled with the children he had saved.
After his story was shared across the world, Winton was bestowed with numerous humanitarian awards and nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
“One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organisation to do that,” Winton said in the Times interview. “Why did I do it? Why do people do different things. Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”