Sir Nicholas Winton who organised the rescue and passage to Britain of about 669 mostly Jewish Czechoslovakian children destined for the Nazi death camps before World War II in an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport. This video is the BBC Programme “That’s Life” aired in 1988.
Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE (born 19 May 1909) is a British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport. Winton found homes for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. The UK press has dubbed him the “British Schindler”.
Before Christmas 1938, Winton was about to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday when he decided instead to travel to Prague to help a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work. There he single-handedly established an organization to aid children from Jewish families in Czechoslovakia at risk from the Nazis. He set up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square. In November 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, the House of Commons had approved a measure that would permit the entry of refugees younger than 17 years old into Britain if they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for a return ticket for their eventual return to their country of origin. Winton found homes for 669 children, many of whose parents perished in Auschwitz. Winton’s mother also worked with Winton to place the children in homes, and later hostels. Throughout the summer he placed advertisements seeking families to take them in. The last group of 250, which had left Prague on 1 September 1939, was sent back because the Nazis had invaded Poland, marking the start of World War II.
With the coming of war, Winton sought registration as a conscientious objector and served with the Red Cross, but in 1940 changed to service in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch of the Royal Air Force. He was initially an airman, rising to sergeant by the time he was commissioned as an acting pilot officer on probation on 22 June 1944. On 17 August 1944, he was promoted to pilot officer on probation. He was promoted to war substantive flying officer on 17 February 1945. He retained his commission until 19 May 1954 when he relinquished it, retaining the rank of flight lieutenant.
Winton kept his humanitarian exploits under wraps for many years until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in the attic in 1988. The scrapbook contained lists of the children, including their parents’ names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. After sending letters to these addresses, 80 of “Winton’s children” were found in Britain. The world found out about Winton’s work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That’s Life! when Winton was invited to be an audience member. At one point during the programme Winton’s scrapbook was shown, and his achievements explained. The host of the programme, Esther Rantzen, then asked if there was anyone in the audience who owed their lives to Winton, and, if so, to stand – at which point more than two dozen audience members surrounding Winton rose and applauded.