Nicholas Winton

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Sir Nicholas Winton
Winton Nicholas 4647.jpg
Winton in Prague in 2007
Born Nicholas Wertheim
(1909-05-19) 19 May 1909 (age 105)
Hampstead, London, England
Occupation Humanitarian
Spouse(s) Grete Gjelstrup[1]
Children Nick, Barbara, Robin(deceased)[2]
  • Order of the British Empire, Member (1983)
  • Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Class IV (1998)
  • Knight Bachelor (UK) (2002)
  • Pride of Britain Awards (2003)
  • Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, Grade I (2008)
  • British Hero of the Holocaust (2010)

Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE (born Nicholas Wertheim; 19 May 1909)[3] is a British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War, in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport. Winton found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain.[4] The British press has dubbed him the "British Schindler".[5]

Early life[edit]

Nicholas Winton was born in 1909 Hampstead, London, a son of German Jewish parents who had moved to London two years earlier.[6] The family name had been Wertheim, but they changed it to Winton in an effort at integration.[7] They also converted to Christianity, and Winton was baptised.[8]

In 1923, Winton entered Stowe School, which had just opened.[9] He left without graduating, attending night school while volunteering at the Midland Bank. He then went to Hamburg, where he worked at Behrens Bank, followed by Wasserman Bank in Berlin.[6] In 1931, he moved to France and worked for the Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris. He also earned a banking qualification in France. Returning to London, he became a broker at the London Stock Exchange.

Humanitarian work[edit]

Shortly before Christmas 1938, Winton was planning to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. He decided instead to visit Prague and help his friend Martin Blake,[6] who had called to ask him to assist in Jewish welfare work.[10] Winton single-handedly established an organisation to aid children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis. He set up his office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square.[11] In November 1938, following the Kristallnacht in Nazi-ruled Germany, the House of Commons approved a measure to allow the entry into Britain of refugees younger than 17, provided they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for their eventual return to their own country.[12]

The Netherlands[edit]

An important obstacle was getting official permission to cross into the Netherlands, as the children were destined to embark on the ferry at the Hook of Holland. After the Kristallnacht in November 1938, the Dutch government officially closed its borders to any Jewish refugees. The border guards (marechaussee) actively searched for them and returned any found to Germany, despite the horrors of Kristallnacht being well known. (From the border, the synagogue in Aachen could be seen burning just 3 miles away).[13]

Winton succeeded, thanks to the guarantees he had obtained from Britain. After the first train, crossing the Netherlands went smoothly. A Dutch woman, Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meier saved another 1000 Jewish children, mostly from Vienna and Berlin via the Hook, though it is not known whether she and Winton ever met. (In 2012, a statue was erected on the quay at the Hook to commemorate all who had saved Jewish children.)

Winton found homes in Britain for 669 children, many of whose parents would perish in Auschwitz.[14] Winton's mother worked with him to place the children in homes and later hostels.[15] Throughout the summer, Winton placed advertisements seeking families to accept them. The last group of 250, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, did not reach safety. Hitler had invaded Poland and World War II had begun.[10][14]

Second World War[edit]

Winton originally sought registration as a conscientious objector and served with the Red Cross,[16] but in 1940 he rescinded his objection to join the Royal Air Force, Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was initially an airman, rising to sergeant by the time he was commissioned on 22 June 1944 as an acting pilot officer on probation.[17] On 17 August 1944 he was promoted to pilot officer on probation.[18] He was promoted to the rank of war substantive flying officer on 17 February 1945.[19] He relinquished his commission on 19 May 1954, retaining the honorary rank of flight lieutenant.[20]

That's Life[edit]

Winton kept quiet about his humanitarian exploits for many years, until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988.[21] It contained lists of the children, including their parents' names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. By sending letters to these addresses, 80 of "Winton's children" were found in Britain.[21] The world found out about his work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That's Life! [22] when he was invited as a member of the audience. At one point Winton's scrapbook was shown, and his achievements explained. The host of the programme, Esther Rantzen, asked whether any in the audience owed their lives to Winton, and, if so, to stand – more than two dozen people surrounding Winton rose and applauded.[23]

Notable people saved[edit]

Sir Nicholas is on record as acknowledging the vital roles of Beatrice Wellington, Doreen Warriner, Trevor Chadwick and others in Prague. Winton was only in Prague for about three weeks before the Nazis invaded. He never set foot on Prague Station. As he wrote "...Chadwick did the more difficult and dangerous work after the Nazis invaded...he deserves all praise". The full story is told in The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938–39,[24] with which Sir Nicholas says he is "delighted".


Memorial of Nicholas Winton,at Prague Main railway station, installed 2009.

In the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours, Winton was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his work in establishing the Abbeyfield homes for the elderly in Britain, and in the 2002 New Year Honours, he was knighted in recognition of his work on the Czech Kindertransport.[14][25][26][27] He met the Queen again during her state visit to Bratislava, Slovakia in October 2008.[28] In 2003, Winton received the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.[29]

Winton was awarded Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by the Czech President in 1998.[30] In 2008, he was honoured by the Czech government in several ways. An elementary school in Kunžak is named after him,[31] and he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I.[31] The Czech government nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.[31][32]

The minor planet 19384 Winton was named in his honour by Czech astronomers Jana Tichá and Miloš Tichý.[33]

Winton was baptised as a Christian, but his Jewish ancestry disqualified him from being declared a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel.[34] In 2010, Winton was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.[35]

In September 2010, his statue was unveiled at Maidenhead railway station by Home Secretary Theresa May, MP for Maidenhead. Created by Lydia Karpinska, it depicts Winton sitting on a bench and reading a book.[5]

Another statue in his honour is on Platform 1 of the Praha hlavní nádraží railway station.[36] It depicts Winton holding a child and standing next to another one. Created by Flor Kent, it was unveiled as part of a larger commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the last Kindertransport train, 1 September 2009 (see also Winton train, below).[37]

In 2014 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation established a schools' literary competition named for Winton. The contest is for high school students, who are invited to write essays about Winton's legacy.[38]

100th birthday[edit]

To celebrate his 100th birthday, he flew over the White Waltham Airfield in a microlight piloted by Judy Leden, the daughter of one of the boys he saved.[39] His birthday was also marked by the publication of a profile in the Jewish Chronicle.[40]

The headboard worn by No. 60163 Tornado from Harwich to Liverpool Street station, the final leg of the Winton Train from Prague

Winton train[edit]

Main article: Winton Train

On 1 September 2009 a special "Winton Train" set off from the Prague Main railway station. The train, comprising an original locomotive and carriages used in the 1930s, headed to London via the original Kindertransport route. On board were several surviving "Winton children" and their descendants, who were welcomed by Winton in London. The occasion marked the 70th anniversary of the intended last Kindertransport, due to set off on 3 September 1939 but prevented by the outbreak of the Second World War. At the train's departure, Winton's statue was unveiled at the railway station.[41]

Popular culture[edit]

Winton's work is the subject of three films by Slovak filmmaker Matej Mináč: the drama All My Loved Ones (1999),[42] in which Winton was played by Rupert Graves, the documentary The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton (Síla lidskosti—Nicholas Winton, 2002), which won an Emmy Award.[43] and the documentary drama Nicky's Family (Nickyho rodina, 2011). A play about Winton, Numbers from Prague, was performed in Cambridge in January 2011.[44] Nicholas Winton is featured in the Academy Award-winning Warner Bros. film about the Kindertransport, "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport," written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris and produced by Deborah Oppenheimer. He is also in their book of the same title published by Bloomsbury Publishing (2000).

See also[edit]

  • Dimitar Peshev - a Bulgarian diplomat, Minister of Justice (1935-1936), before World War II. He rebelled against the pro-Nazi cabinet and prevented the deportation of Bulgaria's 48,000 Jews.
  • Chiune Sugihara - a Japanese diplomat who in 1940 wrote travel visas that allowed more than 6,000 Jewish refugees to escape from Lithuania.
  • Irena Sendler - a Polish nurse/social worker who smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
  • Aristides de Sousa Mendes a Portuguese diplomat issued visas to thousands of refugees fleeing Bordeaux, France.
  • Walter Süskind - a Dutch factory manager who helped about 600 Jewish children escape the Holocaust.
  • Angel Sanz Briz - a Spanish diplomat posted in Budapest who saved 5,200 Hungarian Jews from Nazi persecution by providing them with Spanish documents so that they could leave Hungary.
  • Giorgio Perlasca - an Italian who posed as the Spanish consul-general to Hungary in the winter of 1944, and saved 5218 Jews from transportation to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
  • Oskar Schindler an ethnic German industrialist, German spy, and member of the Nazi party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories
  • Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who helped to hide many Jews in her house and shop during the Holocaust and was imprisoned for it. Her most famous book, The Hiding Place, describes the ordeal.
  • Gilberto Bosques Saldívar - Mexican consul in Marseilles, who issued tens of thousands of visas to fleeing refugees, and rented a castle and a summer holiday camp in Marseilles to house refugees under the protection of what he maintained was Mexican territory under International Law. In 1943, Bosques, his family (wife and three children), and 40 consular staff members were arrested by the Gestapo and detained in Germany for a year
  • Raoul Wallenberg - A Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports


  1. ^ Munk, Eva (October 24, 2007). "Winton humbled by children's gratitude". The Prague Post. Archived from the original on 2013-11-19. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  2. ^ If its not impossible... Life of Sir Nicholas Winton
  3. ^ Nicholas Winton and The Rescued Generation by Muriel Emanuel and Vera Gissing
  4. ^ "Sir Nicholas Winton, A Man Of Courage". 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "Statue for 'British Schindler' Sir Nicholas Winton". BBC News. 18 September 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c "Winton bio". Winton Train. České drahy. 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  7. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  8. ^ "Profile: Nicholas Winton", BBC News, 28 August 2009
  9. ^ "The official opening of Stanhope House". Stowe School. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  10. ^ a b Jonathan Romain "A salute to the 'British Schindler' as he turns 104",, 17 May 2013
  11. ^ "Nicholas Winton, the Schindler of Britain". 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  12. ^ Baruch Tenenbaum. "Nicholas Winton, British savior". IRWF. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  13. ^ Dr L. de Jong: Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden inde Tweede Wereldoorlog, part 1
  14. ^ a b c Lahav, Yehuda; Nir Hasson (2 September 2009). "Jews saved by U.K. stockbroker to reenact 1939 journey to safety". Haaretz. Ha'aretz. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  15. ^ Nicholas Winton and the rescued generation Muriel Emanuel, Věra Gissing – 2002 "Many German refugee boys and some Winton children were given refuge in Christadelphian homes and hostels and there is substantial documentation to show how closely Overton worked with Winton and, later, with Winton's mother, "
  16. ^ Imperial War Museum Sound Archive, 17460
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36633. p. 3562. 28 July 1944. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  18. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36681. p. 4071. 29 August 1944. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
  19. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36963. p. 1202. 27 February 1945. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  20. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 40315. pp. 6200–6205. 27 February 1945. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  21. ^ a b "Film documents 'power of good'". Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  22. ^ "The Power of Good". Archived from the original on 2013-11-19. 
  23. ^ Sir Nicholas Winton – BBC Programme "That's Life" (1988) on Youtube. Retrieved 25 October 2011
  24. ^ Chadwick, William (2010). The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938–39. Matador. ISBN 978-1848765047. 
  25. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49375. p. 17. 10 June 1983. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56797. p. 2. 31 December 2002. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: no. 57030. p. 10218. 15 August 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  28. ^ "Slovaks welcome Queen to capital". BBC News. 23 October 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  29. ^ The Pride of Britain Awards – Lifetime Achievement, Sir Nicholas Winton. Retrieved 14 October 2011
  30. ^ "List of holders of the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order". Prague Castle site. Office of the President of the Czech Republic. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  31. ^ a b c "Sir Nicholas Winton in the Czech Republic". Ministry of Defense, Czech Republic. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2009. 
  32. ^ "UK | UK's 'Schindler' awaits Nobel vote". BBC News. 1 February 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  33. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser". JPL Small-Body Database. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 2 October 2003. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  34. ^ "Nicholas Winton". Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  35. ^ "Britons honoured for holocaust heroism". The Daily Telegraph (London). 9 March 2010. Archived from the original on 9 March 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  36. ^ Dáin & Olík; sfwife (2011-01-20). "Sir Nicholas Winton statue, Praha, CZ". Waymarking. Groundspeak. Retrieved 2013-11-19. "Quick Description: Bronzova socha Sira Nicholase Wintona a dvou deti / Bronze statues of Sir Nicholas Winton and two children." 
  37. ^ "Tisková zpráva – projekt Winton Train – inspirace dobrem vrcholí". Winton Train, o. p. s. 1 September 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  38. ^ Letter in The Guardian newspaper, 24 May 2014, signed by Eduardo Eurnekian and Baruch Tenembaum, chairman and founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
  39. ^ "'UK Schindler' in birthday flight". BBC News. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  40. ^ Porter, Monica (14 May 2009). "Sir Nicholas Winton: A reluctant Holocaust hero". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 20 December 2009. 
  41. ^ ČTK (1 September 2009). "Train in honour of Jewish children rescuer Winton leaves Prague". České noviny. Neris s.r.o. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  42. ^ "Všichni moji blízcí (1999)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  43. ^ "Síla lidskosti — Nicholas Winton (2002)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  44. ^ The European Association for Jewish Culture, 2010 theatre grant awards.

Further reading[edit]

  • Winton Barbara: If its Not Impossible... The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton ISBN 9781783065202

External links[edit]