Nicholas Winton

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Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE (born Nicholas Wertheim; 19 May 1909 – 1 July 2015) was a British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669 children, mostly Jewish, 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.[1] The British press has dubbed him the "British Schindler".[2] On 28 October 2014, he was awarded the highest honour of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion, by the Czech president, Miloš Zeman. He died on 1 July 2015 at the age of 106.

Early life[edit]

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.[3] The family name was Wertheim, but they changed it to Winton in an effort at integration.[4] They also converted to Christianity, and Winton was baptised.[5]

In 1923, Winton entered Stowe School, which had just opened.[6] He left without qualifications, 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.[3] 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."[7] 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.[7]

Humanitarian work[edit]

See also: Kindertransport

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,[3] who was in Prague as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia,[8] and had called Winton to ask him to assist in Jewish welfare work.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]


An important obstacle was getting official permission to cross into the Netherlands, as the children were destined to embark on the ferry at Hoek van 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.[12]

Winton succeeded, thanks to the guarantees he had obtained from Britain. After the first train, the process of crossing the Netherlands went smoothly.[13] Winton ultimately found homes in Britain for 669 children,[14] many of whose parents would perish in the Auschwitz concentration camp.[15] Winton's mother worked with him to place the children in homes and later hostels.[16] Throughout the summer, Winton placed advertisements seeking families to accept the children. 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.[9][15] Nearly all of the children on the last, unsuccessful train perished during the war.[17]

Winton has acknowledged the vital roles of Beatrice Wellington, Doreen Warriner, Trevor Chadwick and others in Prague who also worked to evacuate children from Europe. Winton was only in Prague for about three weeks before the Nazis occupied the country. He never set foot in Prague Station. As he later wrote, "Chadwick did the more difficult and dangerous work after the Nazis invaded ... he deserves all praise".[18]

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.[19] 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.[19] The world found out about his work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That's Life![20] 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.[21]

Winton visiting Prague in 2007

Notable people saved[edit]

Of the 669 children saved from the Holocaust through Winton's efforts, more than 370 have never been traced. The BBC News suggested in 2015 that they may not know the full story of how they survived the war.[22]

World War II[edit]

Amid the outbreak of World War II, Winton sought registration as a conscientious objector and served with the Red Cross,[23] but in 1940 he rescinded his objection to join the Royal Air Force, Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was an aircraftman, rising to sergeant by the time he was commissioned on 22 June 1944 as an acting pilot officer on probation.[24] On 17 August 1944 he was promoted to pilot officer on probation.[25] He was promoted to the rank of war substantive flying officer on 17 February 1945.[26] He relinquished his commission on 19 May 1954, retaining the honorary rank of flight lieutenant.[27]


After the war, he worked for the International Refugee Organisation and then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris, where he met and married Grete Gjelstrup, from Denmark.[7] He and Grete settled in Maidenhead, England, where they brought up their three children and he stood, unsuccessfully, for the town council in 1954.[7] Winton found work in the finance departments of various companies.[7]

100th birthday[edit]

To celebrate his 100th birthday, Winton flew over the White Waltham Airfield in a microlight piloted by Judy Leden, the daughter of one of the boys he saved.[28] His birthday was also marked by the publication of a profile in The Jewish Chronicle.[29]


Winton's death was announced on 1 July 2015 by the Rotary Club of Maidenhead. He died early in the morning, at Wexham Hospital in Slough, with his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren at his bedside. He was 106 years old.[30][31][32] Winton's death came 76 years to the day after 241 of the children he saved left Prague on a train.[30] A special report from the BBC News on several of the children whom Winton rescued during the war had been published earlier that day.[22]


Memorial to the work of Winton, by Flor Kent, 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.[15][33][34][35] He met the Queen again during her state visit to Bratislava, Slovakia, in October 2008.[36] In 2003, Winton received the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.[37] Winton was awarded Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by the Czech President in 1998.[38] In 2008, he was honoured by the Czech government in several ways. An elementary school in Kunžak is named after him,[39] and he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I.[39] The Czech government nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.[39][40]

The minor planet 19384 Winton was named in his honour by Czech astronomers Jana Tichá and Miloš Tichý.[41]

A statue of Winton is on Platform 1 of the Praha hlavní nádraží railway station.[42] 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, below).[43]

There are also three memorials at Liverpool Street Station in London, where the Kindertransports arrived.[44]

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.[2]

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.[45] In 2010, Winton was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.[46] As an adult he was not active in any particular religious preference.[47]

In 2012, a statue was erected on the quay at the Hook to commemorate all who had saved Jewish children.[48]

Winton received the Wallenberg Medal on 27 June 2013 in London.[17] The following year, 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.[49]

Winton was awarded the Freedom of the City of London on 23 February 2015.[50]

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, a memorial statue for Winton, designed by Flor Kent, was unveiled at the railway station.[51]

Order of the White Lion[edit]

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".[52] On 28 October 2014, Winton was awarded the Order of the White Lion (Class I) by Czech President Miloš Zeman,[53] 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".[54] Winton was also able to meet some of the people he rescued 75 years earlier, themselves then 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."[52][55]

Popular culture[edit]

Winton's work is the subject of three films by Slovak filmmaker Matej Mináč: the drama All My Loved Ones (1999),[56] 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.[57] and the documentary drama Nicky's Family (Nickyho rodina, 2011). A play about Winton, Numbers from Prague, was performed in Cambridge in January 2011.[58][59] Winton was featured in the 2000 Warner Brothers 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."[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sir Nicholas Winton, A Man Of Courage". 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Statue for 'British Schindler' Sir Nicholas Winton". BBC News. 18 September 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "Winton bio". Winton Train. České drahy. 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  4. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  5. ^ ""Profile: Nicholas Winton", BBC News, 28 August 2009". 
  6. ^ "The official opening of Stanhope House". Stowe School. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Moss, Stephen (9 November 2014). "‘British Schindler’ Nicholas Winton: I wasn’t heroic. I was never in danger". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  8. ^ "Nicholas Winton and the Rescue of Children from Czechoslovakia, 1938–1939". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
  9. ^ a b Jonathan Romain "A salute to the 'British Schindler' as he turns 104",, 17 May 2013
  10. ^ "Nicholas Winton, the Schindler of Britain". 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  11. ^ Baruch Tenenbaum. "Nicholas Winton, British savior". IRWF. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  12. ^ Dr L. de Jong: Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden inde Tweede Wereldoorlog, part 1
  13. ^ "Sir Nicholas Winton: How One Man Saved So Many Lives". Flashbak. 23 November 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  14. ^ The Kindertransport to Britain 1938/39: New Perspectives (2012), eds. Andrea Hammel and Bea Lewkowicz
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ 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 substantial documentation exists to show how closely Overton worked with Winton and, later, with Winton's mother, "
  17. ^ a b "Sir Nicholas Winton – A remarkable living legend". The Jerusalem Post. 18 May 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Chadwick, William (2010). The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938–39. Matador. ISBN 978-1848765047. 
  19. ^ a b "Film documents 'power of good'". Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  20. ^ "The Power of Good". Archived from the original on 2013-11-19. 
  21. ^ Sir Nicholas Winton – BBC Programme "That's Life" (1988) on Youtube. Retrieved 25 October 2011
  22. ^ a b "Nicholas Winton's children: The Czech Jews rescued by 'British Schindler'". BBC News. 1 July 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  23. ^ Imperial War Museum Sound Archive, 17460
  24. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36633. p. 3562. 28 July 1944. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  25. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36681. p. 4071. 29 August 1944. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36963. p. 1202. 27 February 1945. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 40315. pp. 6200–6205. 27 February 1945. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  28. ^ "'UK Schindler' in birthday flight". BBC News. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  29. ^ Porter, Monica (14 May 2009). "Sir Nicholas Winton: A reluctant Holocaust hero". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 20 December 2009. 
  30. ^ a b "Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of children from Nazi persecution, dies aged 106". Maidenhead Advertiser. 1 July 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  31. ^ Koppel, Naomi (1 July 2015). "Kindertransport Organizer Nicholas Winton Dies at 106". ABC News. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  32. ^ "'British Schindler' Sir Nicholas Winton dies aged 106". BBC News. 1 July 2015. Retrieved 2015-07-01. 
  33. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49375. p. 17. 10 June 1983. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  34. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56797. p. 2. 31 December 2002. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  35. ^ The London Gazette: no. 57030. p. 10218. 15 August 2003. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  36. ^ "Slovaks welcome Queen to capital". BBC News. 23 October 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  37. ^ The Pride of Britain Awards – Lifetime Achievement, Sir Nicholas Winton. Retrieved 14 October 2011
  38. ^ "List of holders of the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order". Prague Castle site. Office of the President of the Czech Republic. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  39. ^ a b c "Sir Nicholas Winton in the Czech Republic". Ministry of Defense, Czech Republic. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2009. 
  40. ^ "UK | UK's 'Schindler' awaits Nobel vote". BBC News. 1 February 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  41. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser". JPL Small-Body Database. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 2 October 2003. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  42. ^ 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. 
  43. ^ "Tisková zpráva – projekt Winton Train – inspirace dobrem vrcholí" (PDF). Winton Train, o. p. s. 1 September 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  44. ^ "Kindertransport - the arrival Memorial". n.d. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  45. ^ "Nicholas Winton". Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  46. ^ "Britons honoured for holocaust heroism". The Daily Telegraph (London). 9 March 2010. Archived from the original on 9 March 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  47. ^ "Profile: Nicholas Winton". BBC News. 28 August 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  48. ^ "Kindertransport - Channel Crossing to Life". René and Peter van der Krogt. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  49. ^ Letter in The Guardian newspaper, 24 May 2014, signed by Eduardo Eurnekian and Baruch Tenembaum, chairman and founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
  50. ^
  51. ^ ČTK (1 September 2009). "Train in honour of Jewish children rescuer Winton leaves Prague". České noviny. Neris s.r.o. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  52. ^ a b "Sir Nicholas Winton at 105: the man who gave 669 Czech children the 'greatest gift'". 21 May 2014. 
  53. ^ ČTK. "Seznam osobností vyznamenaných letos při příležitosti 28. října".  (in Czech)
  54. ^ "White Lion goes to Winton and Winston". 
  55. ^ "BBC News - Nicholas Winton honoured by Czechs for saving children from Nazis". BBC News. 
  56. ^ "Všichni moji blízcí (1999)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  57. ^ "Síla lidskosti — Nicholas Winton (2002)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  59. ^ The European Association for Jewish Culture, 2010 theatre grant awards.
  60. ^ "BBC News - Sir Nicholas Winton: I've made a difference". BBC News. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Winton, Barbara (2014), If It's Not Impossible... The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton, Matador, ISBN 9781783065202

External links[edit]