With all the evil that surrounds us and that abounds in the world today, it is of utmost importance to make note of the Tzaddikim, the righteous people, who also live amongst us.
One such tzaddik is Sir Nicholas Winton who sadly passed away today at the grand old age of 106 (h/t Henry). Sir Nicholas Winton became a one-man kindertransport during the darkest days of WWII, and rescued more than 650 children from Czechoslovakia. The Times of Israel reports:
Nicholas Winton, a humanitarian who almost single-handedly saved more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust, earning himself the label “Britain’s Schindler,” has died. He was 106.
Son-in-law Stephen Watson said Winton died on Wednesday. The Rotary Club of Maidenhead, of which Winton was a former president, said his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren were at his side.
Winton arranged trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain, battling bureaucracy at both ends and saving them from almost certain death — and then kept quiet about his exploits for a half-century.
Born in London in 1909 to parents of German Jewish descent, Winton himself was raised as a Christian. He was a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when a friend contacted him and told him to cancel the skiing holiday they had planned in late 1938 and travel instead to Czechoslovakia.
Alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland region recently annexed by Germany, Winton and his friend feared — correctly — that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents from there would be sent to concentration camps.
While supporters in Britain were working to get Jewish intellectuals and communists out of Czechoslovakia, no one was trying to save the children, so Winton took the task upon himself.
Returning to Britain, Winton persuaded British officials to accept children, as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee was paid for each one to ensure they had enough money to return home later. Their stays were only expected to be temporary.
Setting himself up as the one-man children’s section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton set about finding homes and guarantors, drawing up lists of about 6,000 children, publishing pictures to encourage British families to agree to take them.
The first 20 children arrived by plane, but once the German army reached Prague in March 1939, they could only be brought out by train.
In the months before the outbreak of World War II, eight trains carried children through Germany to Britain. In all, Winton got 669 children out. The largest evacuation was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, the day that Britain declared war on Germany. That train never left, and almost none of the 250 children trying to flee on it survived the war.
The children from Prague were among some 10,000 mostly Jewish children who made it to Britain on what were known as the Kindertransports (children’s transports). Few of them would see their parents again. …
We can see Sir Nicholas’ generous character in his voluntary work:
Winton served in the Royal Air Force during the war and continued to support refugee organizations. After the war, he became involved in numerous other charitable organizations, especially in his home town of Maidenhead, west of London.
He was president of the Maidenhead branch of the learning disability charity Mencap for more than 40 years, and also worked with the Abbeyfields organization to set up homes for the elderly in the town. Two of those homes are named for him: Nicholas House and Winton House.
A keen fencer who lost his chance to compete at the Olympics because of the outbreak of war, Winton worked with his younger brother Bobby to found the Winton Cup, still a major team fencing competition in Britain.
Sir Nicholas’s modesty and humility shine through his behaviour:
But for almost 50 years, Winton said nothing about what he had done before the war. It only emerged in 1988 when his wife Grete found documents in the attic of their home.
“There are all kinds of things you don’t talk about, even with your family,” Winton said in 1999. “Everything that happened before the war actually didn’t feel important in the light of the war itself.”
Winton’s wife persuaded him to have his story documented, and it became better-known after the BBC tracked down dozens of “Nicky’s Children” and arranged an emotional reunion on prime-time television.
A film about his heroism, “Nicholas Winton — The Power of Good,” won an International Emmy Award in 2002. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair praised him as “Britain’s Schindler,” after the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who also saved Jewish lives during the war.
Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 and also honored in the Czech Republic. A statue of Winton stands at Prague’s central station, while a statue commemorating the children of the Kindertransport is a popular sight at London’s Liverpool Street Station. He continued to attend Kindertransport events in Britain and the Czech Republic well beyond his 100th birthday.
Winton rejected the description of himself as a hero, insisting that unlike Schindler, his life had never been in danger. He was always modest about his achievements, and his reasons for acting.
“At the time, everybody said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful what you’ve done for the Jews? You saved all these Jewish people,’” Winton said. “When it was first said to me, it came almost as a revelation because I didn’t do it particularly for that reason. I was there to save children.”
Below is a short segment from a program on British TV in which Winton was reunited with some of “his” children. Get out your hankies:
Here is a trailer for a film made about his life, called Nicky’s Family:
As mentioned above, The Power of Good is the name of the film that was made about Sir Nicholas Winton and his wartime rescue initiative. The website of the same name (linked above) has more details about his story. Sometimes one is left gasping with laughter at his audacity in getting the rescue rolling:
Winton had to find funds to use for repatriation costs, and a foster home for each child. He also had to raise money to pay for the transports when the children’s parents could not cover the costs. He advertised in British newspapers, and in churches and synagogues. He printed groups of children’s photographs all over Britain. He felt certain that seeing the children’s photos would convince potential sponsors and foster families to offer assistance. Finding sponsors was only one of the endless problems in obtaining the necessary documents from German and British authorities.“Officials at the Home Office worked very slowly with the entry visas. We went to them urgently asking for permits, only to be told languidly, ‘Why rush, old boy? Nothing will happen in Europe.’ This was a few months before the war broke out. So we forged the Home Office entry permits.”
…After the war, Nicholas Winton didn’t tell anyone, not even his wife Grete about his wartime rescue efforts. In 1988, a half century later, Grete found a scrapbook from 1939 in their attic, with all the children’s photos, a complete list of names, a few letters from parents of the children to Winton and other documents. She finally learned the whole story. Today the scrapbooks and other papers are held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in Israel.
Winton has received many acknowledgements for his humanitarian pre-war deeds. He received a letter of thanks from the late Ezer Weizman, a former president of the State of Israel. He was made an Honorary Citizen of Prague. In 1993, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded him the MBE (Member of the British Empire), and on October 28, 1998, Václav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic, awarded him the Order of T.G. Masaryk at Hradcany Castle for his heroic achievement. On December 31, 2002, Winton received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to humanity. Winton’s story is also the subject of two films by Czech filmmaker Matej Mináč: All My Loved Ones and the award-winning Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good.
The article finishes with these poignant words:
He still wears a ring given to him by some of the children he saved. It is inscribed with a line from the Talmud, the book of Jewish law. It reads:
“Save one life, save the world.”
His was a generation of giants. Where are our giants of today?
Sir Nicholas Winton’s courage in initiating and operating his rescue program as well as his self-effacing modesty about the magnitude of it all form a true example in this day and age of inflated egos and media manipulation.
May his memory be for a blessing and may his family be comforted in the knowledge that the patriarch of their family was a rare hero in very dark times.
יהי זכרו ברוך. ברוך דיין אמת.