Making a Difference
23 March 2018
In December 1938, Nicholas Winton, a 29 year old London stock broker, cancelled his ski trip to Switzerland after a phone call from a friend telling him he had an interesting assignment in Prague instead. He found out that there were thousands of Jewish children who were facing annihilation with the anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany. The only possible way was to secure entry visas into England, which meant a home for each child had to be found, and raise fifty pounds per child as part of the compulsory process of entry into Britain.
He spent the next few months raising money, finding homes and organising transport for the children of Prague. On March 14 1939 Winton had his first successful transport of children into England. He met the train with his mum and the families who had agreed to take the individual children. With the eighth transport train on August 2 1939, he had successfully brought 669 children from Prague into England.
On September 1 1939, he had organised his biggest group yet with 250 children at Prague Station ready to travel. Sadly, it was the same day that Hitler invaded Poland and all the borders were sealed off. The train was sent away without the children. None of the children were seen again. At the other end in England, 250 families waited in vain for their new children to arrive.
After the war, Winton did not tell anyone what he had accomplished, not even his wife Grete. It was only in 1988 when she found a scrapbook of 1939 in their attic with all the children’s photos, a complete lists of names, a few letters from parents and other documents. Only then did she learn the whole story. Today the scrapbook and other papers are held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel.
Since then Winton has appeared on BBC television program, That’s Life, had three movies and a number of books highlighting his story. Numerous folk have indicated they owe their lives to Winton as part of the original children rescued from Prague and wanting to recognise him today. At age 105 he was still vibrant and keen-minded. In fact, when he was undergoing a hip replacement at age 103, the doctors asked if he wanted to be revived if his heart stopped. “Resuscitate me, of course! I want to live.” Nicholas Winton passed away in 2015 at age 106. His hope in having his story go public was for people to think, “Well things are not right in the world now. I can make a difference in my own way and I am going to do it”.
Sir Nicholas Winton made a difference for 699 children of Prague. He was just one person who caught a vision of what he could do to help. The challenge is for each of us to also make a difference in the sphere of influence that we each have.
Dr David McClintock
Principal Avondale School