“To Save One Life Is As If You Have Saved The World:” Nicholas Winton And The “Kindertransport”


It was an easy story to miss: the 100th birthday of someone you’ve never heard of. Not even someone from the USA. But to some people, the most important man in their lives. Indeed, the man without whom they would have no life.

Sir Nicholas Winton was born 100 years ago in England on September 4, 1909. In late 1938 he set out to create an organization designed to find a place for Jewish children in Czechoslovakia imperiled by the Nazis. Only a short time before, England passed a law allowing children to take refuge there within limits: they needed a sponsoring home in England and 50 pounds sterling as an advance toward a return trip back to Eastern Europe, at such time as political events would permit. In all, 669 children no older than 16 made the train trip, thanks to the efforts of Winton and others to find sponsors for these young people (in effect, adoptive parents), the money to support their travel, and the necessary 50 pounds for the hoped for return that was not to come.

One can only imagine the feelings of the parents and the children as the latter boarded the transport; parents promising their children, as many did, that they would all be reunited. Of course, death in the Holocaust would dash such expectations. The project ended when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, World War II broke out, and safe passage across the continent was no longer possible.

Typical of many rescuers, Winton made little fanfare of his altruism. Indeed, until 1988, when he was nearly 80, not even his wife knew what he had done. Only her accidental discovery of a scrapbook documenting his activities led to wider acknowledgment of Winton’s good works, including a Knighthood and a nomination for the Noble Peace Prize by the Czech government.

On September 1, 2009 several of the children Winton saved, now elderly themselves, took the original train used in the Kindertransport in a replication of the journey they had made 70 years before. And when they reached London, Sir Nicholas was there to greet them. Many brought along their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In all, there are approximately 7000 descendants of the original group saved by this man. Children were among those most vulnerable to the Nazis, so it is safe to say that few if any of the 669, not to mention their descendants, would be alive but for the generosity and effort of Sir Nicholas.

The Jewish Talmud states that “to save one life is as if you have saved the world.”


The 1939 photo is of Nicholas Winton with a child he saved. The NY Times obituary can be found here: Nicholas Winton NY Times Obituary.

6 thoughts on ““To Save One Life Is As If You Have Saved The World:” Nicholas Winton And The “Kindertransport”

  1. Thank you Dr Stein for sharing the
    story of this amazing man. He was
    truely the best of humanity. His story
    needs to be always remembered ‘


    • drgeraldstein

      You are welcome. Not all the good die young. Most of those who have saved lives — at least those I’ve read about — like Winton, aren’t self-promoters and think of their actions as the only possible actions they could have taken.


  2. I am one of those people who lurk and don’t comment (for many reasons), but I absolutely love your blog and your writing. This, this breaks my heart and also saves it a little. Knowing there are people like this, that is what gives us hope. This is a man who needs to be remembered, no doubt. Thank you for you and for this blog and for your perspective.


  3. What an inspirational man. Its so refreshing to reflect at a time where in the world we see mindless violence and massacres and the news each night is filled with horrors and for many of us living with memories and images of cruelty that there are these beacons in society and as in Wintons case unrecognised but still shining brightly in the world. I wonder what the world would be like if the news we watch at night was filled with clips of random acts of kindness and humanity rather than random acts of violence?


    • drgeraldstein

      Indeed, Claire. So much information. A good part of our lives is filled with just trying to figure out what is worth our attention.


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