How did the film director discover the story? 

In December 1997 director Matej Minac read in Vera Gissing’s autobiography ‘’Pearls of Childhood’’ about the rescue of Czechoslovak children, who were transported to Britain and brought up by British foster-parents. He was so fascinated by this story that he initially included it in a full-length fiction film’ All My Loved Ones’’ Up to now, the film has been shown at 50 film festivals, it has received ten prestigious awards and film is currently in DVD distribution. Rupert Graves took the part of Nicholas Winton.

   
   

At the same time Minac, together with his friend Patrik Pass, the film editor and Martina Štolbova began working also on the documentary about this rescue mission.  

‘’What would today’s film makers give to be able to make a documentary personally with Oscar Schindler, or with Raoul Wallenberg. Mr. Winton is the last living rescuer of such a large number of people, and we, the filmmakers, were determined to capture his unique story from his own point of view.’’ – said Matej Minac.  

The story

In l939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Nicholas Winton, the 29 year old English stockbroker and his helpers succeeded in sending from the Wilson Station in Prague eight train transports; thus 669 Czechoslovak children were saved {they were from families of communists, social democrats, writers and mainly Jews). Hardly any of the parents survived. Mr. Winton is now 94 years old and he lives in Maidenhead, near London. On the whole his life is quite ordinary. Most of all he enjoys working in the garden; he is an excellent cook and has no problem of getting himself ready to depart on a trip to France or Germany. 

Shortly before Christmas l938, Winton, the London stockbroker, was preparing for a skiing holiday in Switzerland. He could afford it. He was single and earned good money. A single telephone call cut short his plans. His friend, Martin Blake, was working for an organization in Prague which was helping endangered adults to emigrate. Winton joined him. By changing his plans 669 children were saved. 

   
 
Winton witnessed the terrible situation of the refugees from the Sudetenland and he felt intuitively that Hitler would soon occupy the reminder of Bohemia and Moravia and that all the people on Hitler’s black list will be in danger of their lives. There was no organization to help threatened children. Winton saw that his help was needed. He set up an action, which has no comparison. He contacted the governments of nations, which he believed could accept the endangered children. Sweden was the only state apart from his own country, which gave him a positive answer. The British government promised to accept children under the age of eighteen as long as he found homes for them and as long as fifty pounds would be deposited for each child to cover their eventual return home.  
   
 

Winton fought on two fronts. He set up an office in hotel Sroubek /today’s Hotel Evropa/ on Wenceslas Square. Terrified parents, who gradually realized the danger they and their children were in, came to his corner table in the hotel’s coffee house. They could see that the only way to save at least their own children was by placing them in the hands of this young bespectacled man – Nicholas Winton. He did everything to earn their confidence. “Think positive. Think big. Never say it can’t be done. Never give up, “those are the principles which he follows. Soon he opened a proper office in Voršilská Street, which later was in charge of Trevor Chadwick. Soon long queues were forming in front of the building. The Gestapo was aware what was happening but they took no action. Winton’s second battleground was an inconspicuous house in Willow Road, Hampstead, London from which he sought foster families and finances for his mission. “As soon as someone was interested to accept for instance an eight year old girl, I would send them a dozen of photographs of various little girls to choose from. It may seem slightly commercial way of dealing with human beings, but it worked. And worked quickly -” Nicholas remembers.

   


The first train left Prague with the children on l4th of March l939. Seven further transports followed, until the 2nd of August. Altogether 669 children left. When necessary, Winton did not hesitate to forge documents and he did this very well. Quite a few children left Prague with forged entry permits into Britain. The Germans accepted the documents and the in the meantime the British officials were give the authentic ones. Winton knew that a delay of just a few days could endanger could lives for which he felt responsible. The future unfortunately proved him right. 

The largest transport was ready to leave on lst of September l939. The young travelers were already in their seats, but the train never left. The war started in Europe and the Nazis withheld their permission to depart. Instead of going to London the 250 children were later taken by other trains to Terezin and then further to Auschwitz. As far as it is known, none of these children survived the war. 

NICHOLAS WINTON WAS SILENT FOR FIFTY YEARS 

Nicholas Winton kept silent about his Prague mission for 50 years. To him, helping the children was just an episode and the children themselves did not know to whom they owe their lives. Not until l988 Winton’s wife Grete found in the attic a medley of pre-war documentation, including photographs of the children, pleading letters from their parents and telegrams, which Winton sent at that time. Grete carried the bundle downstairs and asked her husband

   
 

what she should do with it. ‘’We’ll throw them out. they are just some old papers,’’ he replied. Grete, however, realised that in her hands she was holding something of great value. The book of documents, which is now deposited in Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, came into the hands of Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, the widow of the publishing magnate Robert Maxwell. She managed to find dozens of the ‘’Winton children’’ and that started it all… 

The film crew from Prague reconstructs the story

For three years director Mináč and Martina Štolbová searched the archives in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, in the USA, in Sweden, in Britain, Israel, Germany and Austria for unique footage material and photos from that era. They found real jewels: in the federal archives of the United States in Washington, they found for instance footage from l939 – the last goodbye of children and their parents in Prague. 

“I was dumfounded, when suddenly I saw in two shots Nicholas Winton holding a little child in his arms and smiling at him. Just imagine this young man almost illegally brings children from the Protectorate, he falsifies documents and is under the constant gaze of the Gestapo who could have at any time arrested him. And suddenly I could see for myself this footage with young Winton, which was filmed by the Americans, who never edited nor showed it. 

In the Czech National Film Archives we found a complete film about rescued children in the Czech School in Wales. Working on this documentary was truly a detective story. We also found a great deal of surprising material in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem” – Matej Mináč recalls. 

   
 

Whilst working on the documentary film we contacted about 50 Winton children from all over the world.  

Among them were prominent personalities such as Joe Schlesinger, leading reporter an journalist of CBC Canada, who is the guide and the narrator in the film, Karel Reisz, the well known British film director – “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” with Meryl Streep and Jeromy Irons, Vera Gissing the author of several children’s books, but best known for her successful autobiography “Pearls of Childhood”, Hugo Marom – the architect of airports, Tom Schrecker who set up Readers Digest in several countries and Lord Alfred Dubs – the former Minister of Blair’s Government. They all confirmed that they feel a moral commitment for being saved. Tom Graumann – Christian missionary, helped several families to emigrate from Russia to the USA and adopted several children. Vera Gissing gives talks and lectures to schools and colleges on the history of that era without pay.