A Man Who Didn’t Give in: Sir Nicholas Winton

 

“I work on the motto that if something isn’t impossible, there must be a way of doing it.” So said Sir Nicholas Winton when asked how he saved the lives of 669 children. Sir Nicholas died yesterday at the age of 106. Before you give up on whatever challenge faces you, get to know his story. The video documentary (above) includes a 2014 interview of Winton. I wrote this essay in 2009: To Save One Life is to Save the World/

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

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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.”

Indeed.

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.