Winton in Prague in October 2007
|Born||Nicholas George Wertheim
19 May 1909
Hampstead, London, England
|Spouse(s)||Grete Gjelstrup (1919-1999)|
|Children||Nick, Barbara, Robin (deceased)|
Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE (born Nicholas Wertheim, 19 May 1909) 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. The British press has dubbed him the "British Schindler". On 28 October 2014 he was awarded the highest honour of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion, by Czech President Miloš Zeman.
Nicholas Winton was born on 19 May 1909 in Hampstead, London, a son of German Jewish parents who had moved to London two years earlier. The family name was Wertheim, but they changed it to Winton in an effort at integration. They also converted to Christianity, and Winton was baptised.
In 1923, Winton entered Stowe School, which had just opened. 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. 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. Though a stockbroker, Winton was also "an ardent socialist who became close to Labour Party party luminaries Aneurin Bevan, Jennie Lee and Tom Driberg." Through another socialist friend, Martin Blake, Winton became part of a leftwing circle opposed to appeasement and concerned about the dangers posed by the Nazis.
Shortly before Christmas 1938, Winton was planning to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. He decided instead to visit Prague and help Martin Blake, who was in Prague as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, and had called Winton to ask him to assist in Jewish welfare work. 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. 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.
An important obstacle was getting official permission to cross into the Netherlands, as the children were destined to embark on the ferry at Hook of Holland. After the Kristallnacht in November 1938, the Dutch government officially closed its borders to any Jewish refugees. The border guards, marechaussee, 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.
Winton succeeded, thanks to the guarantees he had obtained from Britain. After the first train, crossing the Netherlands went smoothly. A Dutch woman, Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer 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 the Auschwitz concentration camp. Winton's mother worked with him to place the children in homes and later hostels. 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 the Second World War had begun.
World War II
Winton sought registration as a conscientious objector and served with the Red Cross, but in 1940 he rescinded his objection to join the Royal Air Force, Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was an airman, rising to sergeant by the time he was commissioned on 22 June 1944 as an acting pilot officer on probation. On 17 August 1944 he was promoted to pilot officer on probation. He was promoted to the rank of war substantive flying officer on 17 February 1945. He relinquished his commission on 19 May 1954, retaining the honorary rank of flight lieutenant.
After the war, he worked for the International Refugee Organisation and then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris, where met and married Grete Gjelstru, from Denmark. He and Grete settled in Maidenhead, England, where they brought up their three children and he stood, unsuccessfully, for the town council in 1954. Winton found work in the finance departments of various companies.
Winton kept quiet about his humanitarian exploits for many years, until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988. 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. The world found out about his work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That's Life!  when he was invited as a member of the audience. At one point Winton's scrapbook was shown, and his achievements were 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.
Notable people saved
Winton has acknowledged 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, with which Winton said he was "delighted".
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. His birthday was also marked by the publication of a profile in The Jewish Chronicle.
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, a memorial statue for Winton, designed by Flor Kent, was unveiled at the railway station.
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. He met the Queen again during her state visit to Bratislava, Slovakia in October 2008. In 2003, Winton received the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement. Winton was awarded Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by the Czech President in 1998. In 2008, he was honoured by the Czech government in several ways. An elementary school in Kunžak is named after him, and he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I. The Czech government nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.
A statue of Winton is on Platform 1 of the Praha hlavní nádraží railway station. It depicts Winton holding a child and standing next to another one. Created by Flor Kent, it was unveiled on 1 September 2009 as part of a larger commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the last Kindertransport train (see also Winton train, above).
In September 2010, another statue of Winton was unveiled, this time 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.
Winton was baptised as a Christian by his parents, but his Jewish ancestry disqualified him from being declared a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. In 2010, Winton was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government. As an adult he didn't subscribe to any faith.
In 2014 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation established a schools' literary competition named after Winton. The contest is for high school students, who are invited to write essays about Winton's legacy.
Winton was awarded the Freedom of the City of London on 23 February 2015.
Order of the White Lion
On 19 May 2014, Winton's 105th birthday, it was announced he was to receive the Czech Republic’s highest honour, for giving Czech children "the greatest possible gift: the chance to live and to be free". On 28 October 2014 Winton was awarded the Order of the White Lion (Class I) by Czech President Miloš Zeman, the Czech Defence Ministry having sent a special aircraft to take him to Prague. The award was made alongside one to Sir Winston Churchill which was accepted by his grandson Nicholas Soames. Zeman said he regretted the highest Czech award having been awarded to the two personalities so belatedly, but added "better late than never". Winton was also able to meet some of the people he rescued 75 years ago, themselves now in their 80s. He said, "I want to thank you all for this enormous expression of thanks for something which happened to me nearly 100 years ago - and a 100 years is a heck of a long time. I am delighted that so many of the children are still about and are here to thank me."
Winton's work is the subject of three films by Slovak filmmaker Matej Mináč: the drama All My Loved Ones (1999), 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. and the documentary drama Nicky's Family (Nickyho rodina, 2011). A play about Winton, Numbers from Prague, was performed in Cambridge in January 2011. Winton was featured in the 2000 Warner Bros. documentary written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris,and produced by Deborah Oppenheimer, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, which received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the film's accompanying book of the same name.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, on 28 October 2014, Winton said he thought he had "made a difference to a lot of people" and went on to say, "I don't think we've learned anything ... the world today is in a more dangerous situation than it has ever been."
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Quick Description: Bronzova socha Sira Nicholase Wintona a dvou deti / Bronze statues of Sir Nicholas Winton and two children.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nicholas Winton.|
- Sir Nicholas Winton's meeting with many of the people he saved (BBC Programme "That's Life" aired in 1988)
- Nicholas Winton film wins Emmy Czech Radio interview
- The New York Times Review of All My Loved Ones
- Nicholas Winton – The Power of Good – web
- "Breakfast With Frost: Interview with Nicholas Winton & Alfred Dubs". BBC Breakfast. 5 January 2003.
- Interview with Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, one of the children saved
- "Retracing a life-saving journey". BBC News. 31 August 2009.