Nicholas Winton, Who Saved Children From Holocaust, Dies At 106

Nicholas Winton, Who Saved Children From Holocaust, Dies At 106
Sir Nicholas Winton awarded Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit German Embassy London /Flickr
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Nicholas Winton, known as the British Oskar Schindler for saving 669 children in 1939 from the Holocaust, died on July 1 at 106. His daughter Barbara and two grandchildren were with him when he died at Wexham Park hospital in Slough.


The unassuming hero

Sir Winton sent the children from Prague to London by train in 1939 to save them from the Nazis. But his heroic act only became known in public in 1988 when his wife, Grete, discovered lists of children and letters from their parents hidden in one of Sir Winton’s briefcase in their attic. Grete and their children brought the letters to Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life program and he was reunited with one of the women whom he saved.

Sir Winton was Knighted by the Queen in March 2003.

The Winton Children

The children he saved grew up good adults and came to be known as the “Winton children.” One of them is former UK MP, Lord Dubs, who was only 6 years old when he boarded one of the trains contracted by Sir Winton.

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“The real fact is that he was a man who saved my life and a lot of us who came on the Kindertransport owe him an enormous debt. His legacy is that when there is a need for you to do something for your fellow human beings, you have got to do it,” Dubs said in his tribute to Sir Winton.

BBC was able to interview some of the Winton Children whom Sir Winton saved.

John Fieldsen, now 84, remembered bitter sweetly how as the train left, his mother took her wristwatch off, gave it to him and told him “remember us.” All he knew back then was that he and his brother are going on a long journey on one of the trains.

Lia Lesser, 84, said she did not know that they would not see their parents again when they boarded one of Sir Winton’s train. Their parents knew otherwise and she thought they were brave to let them go. In the early days she was able to exchange letters with her parents until it eventually stopped. That was time she thought her parents had “perished.”

Ruth Halova, 90, remembered fondly the day she left – there was a steam engine and old wagons made of wooden planks. “Everybody got this label on cardboard with a piece of string with a number [on it], and then we were shoved into the carriages,” Halova told BBC.

Zuzana Maresova said her mother gave her a book about flowers before boarding the train. She remembered her telling “you’re going to a place where these flowers grow.” She remembered being excited thinking “it was some kind of adventure.” But until this very day, she can vividly remember how the parents “pressed faces to the windows and tears running down their faces, and wondering why they’re crying.”

Sir Winton’s greatest regret

The final train where 250 children were boarded did not make it to London. The train was prevented from leaving when Poland was invaded. The children were believed to have died together with the estimated 1.1 million of Jews at Auschwitz.

Words for Sir Winton

British prime minister, David Cameron, urged people to never forget Sir Winton.

“He was a hero of our time, having saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazi regime. His legacy, as a point of light in an era of darkness, will forever be remembered,” said Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to the UK.

“Anyone who had the privilege of meeting him immediately felt admiration, respect and were in awe of his courage. That courage led him to risk his life to save the lives of some of the most vulnerable people. His inspiration will live on,” said former prime minister Gordon Brown.

“He lived to see thousands of descendants of those whose lives he saved who were proud to call themselves members of his family, and who were inspired by his example to undertake outstanding charitable, humanitarian and educational initiatives,” said Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, described Sir Winton as a “giant of moral courage” and “one of the heroes of our time.”

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