In 1939, Sir Nicholas Winton personally and by his own initiative saved the lives of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and brought them across Hitler’s Germany to his native Britain. For nearly 50 years, he kept secret how he rescued these children, but now he is often called “Britain’s Schindler.” Unlike Schindler and Wallenberg, Winton is today still alive and well at 93, and still diffident about why he kept his secret for so long. But, he also is an immensely compelling symbol of how the caring of one man can truly make a difference and truly demonstrate “The Power of Good.” 

We believe that “The Power of Good” 
has a strong message for our turbulent 
times and may be the ultimate expression of 
confronting “evil” on a personal level . Sir 
Winton said it best in a letter he wrote in 1939,
“…There is a difference between passive 
goodness and active goodness. The latter is, in 
my opinion, the giving of one’s time and 
energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering.
It entails going out, finding and helping those
who are suffering and in danger and not merely 
in leading an exemplary life, in a purely passive 
way of doing no wrong.”


   
   


Arrival to Prague

I came to the beautiful town -of Prague in 1938, which was 66 years ago. 
But then of course in the winter of 1938 everybody was terrified. The Nazis walked into Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) and my friend Martin Blake, who was helping the refugees here, asked me to come and meet him in Prague. 
It seemed to us inevitable that the German would occupy Czechoslovakia. And you had all these refugees who were in danger of their lives if Hitler made another move into Czechoslovakia. When one sent that information back to London, to quite important people, they said you are much too near and you can't see it clearly. You are too near the wood to see the trees. Unfortunately we proved to be right.

   
 

DECISION TO HELP CHILDREN 

I just thought what would have happened to all the children of the refugees. Some of them got their parents, some haven’t. This was a big problem. Everybody in Prague told me: “Look, we've got no resources, no money, no manpower, nothing to look after the children. “ And I was told that there was no organization to deal with the children. So the idea came to me that these children had to be saved. 
Everybody in Prague said: “Look, there is no organization to deal with the children, anyway nobody will let the children to go on their own. But if you want to have a go, have a go.” According to me there is nothing that can’t be done, if it’s fundamentally reasonable. And that's how I got into it.

   
 


BACK IN LONDON

When I got back to England I tried to find homes for these children. I had no office, I had no stuff and I had no name.

I just wrote a note paper, British Committee for Refugees, Czechoslovakia, Children’s section appointed myself honorary secretary. So we were completely unofficial and I was quite unofficially officially the honorary secretary of this unofficial body.

When I say the committee in London, it was me and the secretary in London working from my house.

The first thing we had to do was to find out the names of the people, who would like to take a child. It was very much done as a kind of commercial thing. I mean you found somebody up in Edinburgh who'd say I'd like a little girl of ten. You know, how can you “sell” them a girl of ten except by sending them a lot of photographs of children and say: “Choose one.” I mean, in retrospect it sounds awful, but it was quick, you know, and it worked.

   
 


Those children who were on our cards and were not picked, I would have imagined, yes, they died. It was a bit of a lottery who came. It was only England to whom I could get the children sent. I wrote to the governments of other countries asking them for help. They all found different excuses not to do so.

WILSON STATION IN PAGUE

Now, back at the station where 65 years ago a real drama of 669 children unfolded itself. There must have been the scenes of the most indescribable anguish and tears of all the mothers leaving their children, the children not knowing whether they were going on the holiday or whether they were leaving for good and asking why are you sending us away. It must have been the most terrible scenes.

 
 
 
   


LIVERPOOL STREET STATION

I don't think anybody can imagine really in retrospect what it was like at Liverpool Street Station when you have 250 foster parents there, who have guaranteed to take a child. The train comes in, 250 squeaking, shouting children arrived on the platform. A lot of them extremely happy, they thought they were on holiday. Some of them were crying. Others much too young to know what was going on. And then we had to match 250 children to 250 grown-ups and it wasn't an easy job.

 
   
 
 


THE LAST TRAIN

At the beginning of September we'd arranged a transport of 250 children. That means that 250 children had to be brought here with all their relatives to say goodbye and in London we had all the 250 families who were going to look after these children, when they arrived.

 
   
 


You can imagine what it was like here, all the anguish and tears, all the preparations would have been made and then suddenly all was declared. All these children were stranded here. They were completely exposed, because they've been boating from all over the place to come to England on the stay and none of the children, as far as I've heard and I've done quite a lot of research on it, none of those children were ever heard of again.

WINTON AFTER THE WAR

After the war I was given the job of Assistant Director at the reparation section. And all the German loot that have been found all over Europe was given to us and we had to take all the stuff that was found, all the jewellery and golden false teeth and everything that had been taken from the victims in the Nazi concentration camps, and all these items were sold and 95 per cent of that was sent to what was then the Jewish Agency, which later, as you know, became the Jewish state. Later I went to work for the International Bank in Paris, where I met my wife Grete. I got married in 1948.

CHARITY WORK

I've been drifted in a lot of charity work. That's what I like doing. I got into the business, if you can call it that way, of mentally handicapped, because we had a mentally handicapped child. And I got into business for the old people, I've raised money and built couple of homes and helped to form committees to run it. And I don't think they call it that I help now, I think they call it that I interfere.

FENCING

I was good at fencing and I fenced for England. I was asked to fight in the English team against Scotland. After the war my brother and I were helping in organizing fencing and we founded Winton cup, which was going to be the fencing competition which embraced the whole country and this has become the greatest sporting event in Great Britain.

I enjoy gardening and it takes the place of other things which I used to do. I mean my main physical activity during my life was fencing and when I couldn't fence anymore my surplus energy was diverted to growing vegetables.

SCRAPBOOK

This scrap-book which I got with the list of all 669 children, with photographs of children, urgent telegrams, newspaper clips, letters from desperate parents was prepared for me by one of the gentlemen who worked in my office in 1939. These records were in one of my trunks somewhere on the attic of my house and really completely forgotten. My wife found these documents in 1988. It was certainly a surprise for her, because she knew nothing of what I had been doing in 39. And when she saw those papers she realized that it could be interesting for some people – especially for the rescued children Later the story broke and we started meeting many of rescued children. Today we're now in touch only with about 150 of 669 children. They all wrote and there were conferences and meetings. 500 children on my list still don´t know anything about the rescue operation. We are in touch with no children from South America and one knows that a lot of refugees found their way there.

   
 

I went to Israel in 89 and I delivered to the Yad Vashem the original documents (scrapbook) which have now been copied and reasonably widely circulated. And the result is now that instead of getting rid of 2 fairly small booklets I've now got a whole room absolutely full of papers. We have an enormous correspondence and from my point of view it might have been better had the story remained untold. 
   
 


WINTON´S OPINIONS:

LAUGHTER

I mean most of the days I spend I don't achieve anything, but we still laugh. Laughter is the most important thing in life. I think most things are taken far too seriously which prevents people from doing really what comes natural.

   
 


NEVER GIVE UP

I just think that a lot of people say certain things can't be done, because they've never really tried to do some things. That's an excuse for not doing something. Most things which are not blatently absolutely impossible to do, with a lot of hard work can be achieved. I think it's the will often that is lacking.

LOVE

Oh, love is very, very important. It's the only thing that's really important. It's the art of compromise. The art of living together. The art of sharing, if not the same hobbies, at least tolerance of the other person's hobbies. My wife Grete doesn't even mind now when I go out to bridge, and I don't mind when she goes to her ladies' meetings.

   


HAPPINESS

I suppose one gets a lot of happiness from the children and a lot of unhappiness when the things for them go wrong. I think one gets a lot of happiness when the hobbies that you've got come right. I think I get certain amount of happiness for some of the achievements I've done for my two charities. The Abbey field and a house for mentally handicapped children. I suppose my wife and me get a lot of happiness from the house which is going very well and from the fact that we can tolerate each other after 50 years. Or even more than tolerate.

RELIGION

Once you believe in a God I can't understand there should be difference believing in a God as a Catholic, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. The fundamentals of all religion: kindness, you shall not kill and look after your parents – the ethics is the same. And I think that people should regard the trimmings of the religion less and the ethics of religion more.

 
 

After the war I joined the International Refugee Organization which was part of the United Nations, because I felt it part of my duty to finish the job by helping to get the refugees back to the homes from which they came.