Czech Sir Winton DecorationSir Nicholas Winton rescued 669 Czech children from their doomed fate in the Nazi death camps—his achievement went unrecognized for over half a century. For fifty years most of the children did not know to whom they owed their lives. The story of Nicholas Winton only emerged when in 1988, his wife Greta came across an old leather suitcase in the attic of their home. They had been married for many years and he’d never once mentioned the story behind his collection of 1939 photos, letters, and lists. The contents proved that her husband was a hero, but this humble man had chosen to keep hidden from his wife and the rest of the world his role during the war. At the invitation of a friend at the British Embassy in 1939, Nicholas Winton, then a 30-year-old London Stockbroker, visited Prague, Czechoslovakia. When he arrived, the British team working in newly-erected refugee camps asked him to help out. He spent a couple of months in Prague and was alarmed by the influx of refugees—he immediately recognized that nobody was doing anything for the children who were facing imminent danger.

He decided to set-up his own rescue operation and so he set-up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Prague. Word quickly spread of his efforts and parents flocked to his hotel in Wenceslas Square, to persuade him to put their children on the list, desperate to get them out and to safety before the Nazis invaded.

Winton’s office distributed questionnaires and registered the children. Winton appointed Trevor Chadwick, a schoolmaster, and Bill Barazetti, a longtime anti-Nazi and worker for the Czech secret service in Germany, both such very brave men, to make all the organizational arrangements from the Prague end. They organized the trains, interviewed the families, and sent Nicholas Winton the details and photographs of each child.

In Britain, Winton cooperated with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak travel agency in Cedok. Working day and night, he persuaded the Home Office to let the children in. For each child, he had to find a foster parent and a 50 sterling pound guarantee. He also had to hurriedly raise money to help pay for the transports when contributions by the children’s parents could not cover the costs. 

In nine months of campaigning as the war crept closer, Nicholas Winton managed to arrange for 669 children to get out on eight trains travelling from Prague to London. The ninth train—the largest transport—was to leave Prague on September 3, 1939, the day Britain entered the war. The train never left the station. Not a single one of the 250 children on board were seen or heard of again. There were 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street Station that day in vain. If the train had left one day earlier it would have come through.

Those who travelled on the first eight trains, though now grandparents, still call themselves ‘Winton’s Children’. Over the years Nicholas Winton has been bestowed with many well deserved tributes for his humanitarian work and the acts of rare kindness in organizing bravery and incredible humility in keeping his heroic act a secret for over fifty years. In December 2002, Nicholas Winton received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.