Sir Nicholas Winton never believed he was in danger, even as he helped transport 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to England during the nine months before war broke out in 1939.
Sir Nicholas Winton never believed he was in danger, even as he helped transport 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to England during the nine months before war broke out in 1939, an operation that later came to be known as the Czech Kindertransport. His daughter, Barbara Winton, author of If It’s Not Impossible…The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton, will discuss her book — and her father’s amazing feat of lifesaving — when the American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey celebrates International Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 22, at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP, in Center City.
“He never felt he was risking his own life,” Winton told the Jewish Exponent in a phone interview.
The Kindertransport brought thousands of Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940.
Children traveled by train to ports in Belgium and the Netherlands, then sailed to Harwich. At least one of the early transports left from the port of Hamburg, Germany. Some Czech children were flown directly to Britain. The last transport from Germany left Sept. 1, 1939, just as World War II began. The last transport from the Netherlands left for Britain May 14, 1940, the same day that the Dutch army surrendered to the Germans.
Many of those saved by the operation became citizens of Great Britain; others emigrated to Palestine/Israel, the United States, Canada and Australia. Tragically, most of them never again saw their parents or other family members, victims of Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust.
Barbara Winton felt that too many things have been written about her father that were slanted or untrue. She wanted people to meet the real Nicholas Winton.
“I thought it would be an opportunity to balance things,” she said.
His parents, Rudolph and Barbara Wertheim, were German Jews who had moved to London in 1907. They changed their name to Winton in an effort to assimilate and also converted to Christianity.
After a brief stint in Paris as a banker, he returned to London, where he became a broker at the London Stock Exchange. Soon after he joined the Labour Party. Through that, he met Martin Blake, who asked Winton to join him in Czechoslovakia, where he had traveled in his
capacity as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia.
This committee had been established in October 1938 to provide assistance for refugees created by the German annexation of the Sudeten regions under the terms of the Munich Pact. Convinced that war in Europe was imminent, Winton decided to go. In Prague, Blake introduced him to his colleague, Doreen Wariner, and arranged for him to visit refugee camps filled to capacity with Jews and political opponents from the Sudetenland.
Winton eventually returned to London to organize the rescue operation on that end. He raised money to fund the transports of the children, along with the £50 per child guarantee demanded by the British government to fund the children’s eventual departure from Britain. He also had to find British families willing to care for the refugee children. By day, Winton worked at the Stock Exchange. By night, he rescued kids.
“His view was that they” — the kids — “were all being taken care of,” his daughter noted. “They weren’t particularly going after British people.”
It wasn’t until 1988, when his wife, Grete, found a scrapbook with pictures of the Kindertransport, that he began to discuss what took place. That wasn’t the only recognition he received, though: In 2002, Winton received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to humanity.
While she enjoyed writing the book and learning about her father, Winton told the Exponent, it will be her only book. The book was published April 25, 2014, more than a year before 105-year-old Nicholas’ death on July 1, 2015.
Winton explained that although her father helped people, he would not have gotten where he did in life without breaking a few rules.
“He had these characteristics needed to be successful and some of that was what he learned on the stock market,” she said.
Marcia Bronstein, the regional director of AJC Philadelphia/SNJ, said that her organization continues to host programs like this one because even though many Holocaust survivors are no longer alive, their children continue to tell their stories.
“The international community takes remembrance seriously and there are so many families touched both directly and indirectly by the Holocaust,” Bronstein said. “It crosses countries and cultures. Today, we see so many signals of intolerance around the globe that bring back memories of the Holocaust. What we can do is keep the memory alive, keep the lessons of those who risked their lives to help alive — and perhaps humanity can be saved.”
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