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Sir Nicholas Winton was a stockbroker, socialist, and humanitarian from England who helped save almost 700 children, mostly Jewish children, during the Holocaust. He organized transport out of Czechoslovakia and to the United Kingdom in a rescue operation called the Czech Kindertransport. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him and the Czech President, Miloš Zeman awarded Sir Winton the Order of the White Lion, the Czech Republic’s highest honor, for the mission.

Youth and Education

Nicholas George Winton was born in Hampstead, London, England, on May 19, 1909, to parents Rudolph Wertheim and Barbara Wertheimer. His parents were Jews from Germany who immigrated to London only two years prior. His father changed their name to Winton and the family converted to Christianity when they moved. Rudolph Winton worked in as a bank manager in the city.[1]

Nicholas Winton attended a grammar school and secondary school in Hampstead with his brother.[2] They then enrolled at the private boarding school, Stowe School, in 1923.[3] He enjoyed learning about mathematics with the help of a good math teacher.[4] He also competed as a fencer and the British Olympic team recruited him in 1938 to compete for Britain in the next Olympics. The games were canceled, however, due to World War II.[5]

Early Career

Nicholas Winton left Stowe School without matriculating and continued his education through night classes. He also volunteered at the Military Bank before moving to Hamburg, Germany to work at Behrens Bank. He then moved to Berlin and gained employment at Wassermann Bank. Winton relocated again in 1931 to the Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris, France.[6] He began taking courses on banking while in Paris and earned a further qualification.

Winton returned to his home city of London to work as a stockbroker in the London Stock Exchange. He explored socialism and joined the Labour Party, where he met people like Tom Driberg, Jennie Lee, Aneurin Bevan, and Martin Blake. Blake introduced him to a circle of left-leaning British citizens against appeasing Nazi Germany and concerned about the rise of the Third Reich.[7]

Nicholas Winton and the Holocaust

Nicholas Winton did not intend to join in the resistance against the Nazis while he worked as a stockbroker in London.

Martin Blake invited Nicholas Winton to join him on a trip to Czechoslovakia as Blake performed duties as an associate of the Refugees from Czechoslovakia’s British Committee. The committee assisted the people turned refugees by the Nazi Germany invasion of Sudetenland. Winton visited the refugee camps filled with Jews and people opposing the Third Reich in the Sudetenland.

Winton recognized the danger sweeping across Europe and kept up to date with the increasing violence against Jews in Austria and Germany. He learned of the Jewish-British attempt to rescue Jewish children in Austria and Germany called the Kindertransport. Winton decided to create a similar rescue attempt after the destruction of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

Winton used the name of the Czech British Committee for Refugees to establish a children’s section and start taking applications from Jewish parents without receiving authorization at first. He began seeing the parents at his Prague hotel, but the numbers soon increased so much he was forced to open a physical office in the middle of the city of Prague. Thousands of terrified parents met with Winton to seek safe transport for their children to the United Kingdom.[8]

The Czech Kindertransport

Nicholas Winton visited London and the British Committee for Refugees headquarters to raise money to support the rescue operation. He sought British families willing to house the refugee children and had the British government agree to a guaranteed 50pounds for each child to help them leave Britain eventually. Winton continued to work for the London Stock Exchange during the day and then focused on the rescue mission in the afternoons and evenings.

On March 14, 1939, Winton organized the first transportation of refugee children to London by plane. The Nazis invaded and took over the Czech lands the next day. Winton needed to find a new way to get the children out and organized seven more transports from Prague to the German, Atlantic coastline to a ship and on to freedom in London.

The last group of refugee children left on August 2, 1939, and no further attempts were made after Britain officially declared war on Germany in September that year. According to a journal kept by Nicholas Winton during the time listed that he saved 664 children from the former Czechoslovakia. A later report increased this number to 669 children.[9]

Personal and Later Life

When World War II and the Holocaust ended, Nicholas Winton began working for the International Refugee Organization run by the United Nations. He then worked for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris. While working in Paris, Winton met a secretary from Denmark named Grete Gjelstrup.

Nicholas Winton and Grete Gjelstrup married on October 31, 1948, in Vejle, Denmark. They moved in together in Maidenhead, England and produced three children, Barbara, Nick, and Robin, their youngest child born with Down Syndrome. Robin died just before his sixth birthday due to meningitis. This prompted Winton to start a local support group that later became the Maidenhead MENCAP. In 1954, Winton ran for town council, but lost. He worked in the financial department of a multitude of companies for the remainder of his life.[10]

Honors, Awards, and Death

Sir Nicholas Winton as knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his heroism in saving almost 700 children from death when the Nazis invaded the former Czechoslovakia.

Queen Elizabeth II of England knighted Sir Nicholas Winton in 2002 during the New Years Honors. The independent Czech Republic made him an honorary citizen in Prague for his efforts. [11] In 2008, the Czech Republic government named an elementary school in Kunžack after Winton. The Czech government also awarded him the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defense, Grade I, and nominated him for the 2008 Noble Peace Prize.[12]

On October 28, 2014, the president of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman honored Sir Nicholas Winton with the republic’s highest award, the Order of the White Lion, Class I. He received the award with Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson after being flown to Prague and meeting some of the children he rescued.[13]

Sir Nicholas Winton died from cardio-respiratory failure on July 1, 2015, in Wexham Park Hospital.[14]

References

Bibliography

České dráhy, a.s. (2008). Nicholas Winton Biography. Wintontrain.eu.[5]


Emanuel, M., & Gissing, V. (2001). Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation: Save One Life, Save the World (The Library of Holocaust Testimonies). London: Vallentine Mitchell & Co.


USHMM. (2017). Nicholas Winton and the Rescue of Children from Czechoslovakia, 1938–1939. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.[6]

Footnotes

  1. Emanuel & Gissing, 2001
  2. České dráhy, a.s., 2008
  3. Emanuel & Gissing, 2001
  4. České dráhy, a.s., 2008
  5. Emanuel & Gissing, 2001
  6. České dráhy, a.s., 2008
  7. Emanuel & Gissing, 2001
  8. USHMM, 2017
  9. USHMM, 2017
  10. Moss, S. (2014, November 9). “British Schindler” Nicholas Winton: I wasn’t heroic. I was never in danger. The Guardian.[1]
  11. USHMM, 2017
  12. Ministry of Defense. (2008, July 2). Sir Nicholas Winton in the Czech Republic. The Army of the Czech Republic.[2]
  13. Ministry of Defense. (2008, July 2). Sir Nicholas Winton in the Czech Republic. The Army of the Czech Republic.[3]
  14. BBC (2015, July 1). Holocaust “hero” Sir Nicholas Winton dies aged 106. BBC Berkshire.[4]

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