Monday, July 13, 2015

Who Is Nicholas Winton?

The Story of the Silent Hero


This is the story of a man named Nicholas Winton. He is German-Jewish by blood but British by birth and religion. Many people especially the generations of today might not know him but he is a man worth recognizing.

He was born and raised in the comforts of a well-to-do family; he graduated in International Banking in London and worked in different parts of the world.

So who is this man, and why am I talking about him? What significance does it make if I talk about him?

This man is a silent hero, who, for 50 long years, has kept his heroic deed in secrecy; even from his own wife.


In the year 1988, his wife found an old scrapbook in their attic filled with names, pictures, letters, travel documents and notes crediting Nicholas’ colleagues.

Nicholas’ wife was puzzled by this and asked for an explanation about the scrapbook. He only gave her a general explanation and told her to just throw all those papers away because he thought those papers were of no use anymore.

His wife instead gave the papers to a Holocaust Historian and the rest was history. Numerous write-ups and recognition came pouring in for Nicholas and the publicity spread worldwide.

His heroic deed was also featured in books and films.


So what did Nicholas Winton do that made people recognize him as a hero?

Much like the famous Oskar Schindler, whose heroism was featured in the award winning movie “Schindler’s List”, Nicholas Winton rescued 669 Holocaust children who now have more than 6000 descendants.

These 6000 descendants would not be here today had it not been for Mr. Winton’s efforts of saving their ancestors.

It all started in December 1938 when he cancelled his skiing trip in Switzerland and instead headed on to Prague, where one of his friends was aiding refugees in the western region of Czechoslovakia.

There, he saw the stricken condition of the big number of people in the refugee camps. He saw how hopeless the situation of the people were, especially the children.

The chance of escape was low, given the limitations on Jewish immigration to the West.


Mr. Winton created a mass-rescue operation in Czechoslovakia because there was none in that area at that time.

The operation involved a lot of danger and effort to get the children out of war-torn Czechoslovakia.

In Mr. Winton’s hotel room in Prague, he met a lot of terrified parents who begged for their children to be fled and saved even if it meant having to be painfully separated from them with no chance of ever seeing each other again.

In 1939, Nicholas went back to London to look for foster homes for the children and raise money for their transport to Britain.


In March 1939, before Hitler made the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia as a German “Protectorate,” the first 20 children successfully left Prague on a train.

It was an emotional scene as the children pleaded not to be taken away from their parents but their parents could only agonizingly let them go for their own safety.

Mr. Winton and his colleagues arranged for 8 more trains for the remaining children after that. Only 7 trains made it through though, the last being able to reach Britain in August 1939 which gave the total of 669 rescued children.


The eighth train which carried around 250 children wasn’t able to make it through as Hitler already invaded Poland on the day it was supposed to enter London; it was September 1, 1939.

Within hours of the invasion and closing of all borders, the train disappeared and all 250 children were never seen again. They were believed to have perished inside the German concentration camps.

That was the end of Mr. Winton’s rescue mission. 50 years after keeping silent, his efforts were finally made known to the world.


After the war, many of the saved children remained in Britain, but others returned to Czechoslovakia or emigrated to Israel, Australia or the United States.

Some of the children that Nicholas had saved have become famous and successful in their own fields.

The survivors, who are now old at around 70 to 80 years of age, still call themselves “Winton’s Children.”


In 1988, on a BBC program called “That’s Life”, dozens of people gathered to thank him for his heroism. Little did he know that those people who were around him during that day were the children he had saved years ago from the German Holocaust.

Tears rolled down Nicholas’ eyes as a woman hugged him. According to him, it was the most emotional moment of his life. It was indeed a touching moment.

One particularly unforgettable line that Mr. Winton said during one of his interviews with New York Times in 2001 was,

“Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all”,

when he was asked why he bothered to save those children when he could just have continued on with his normal life.


On September 1, 2009, exactly 70 years since the war broke out that brought Mr. Winton’s rescue operations to a stop, a special train with materials from the 1930s left Prague to relive the risky journeys that took place in 1939.

The train carried some of the original “Winton’s Children” together with their more than 6,000 descendants.

They were met by the already 100 year old Nicholas Winton at the Liverpool Street Station.


Mr. Winton, the silent hero died on July 1, 2015 at the age of 106.

This man is a perfect example of a person who risked his own life in order for others to live.

What’s more admirable is the way he had kept silent over the heroic act he did. He did not want any recognition at all.

He just thought that he had to do something and never expected any kind of honour or recognition in return.

How wonderful it is to know his story. He is truly an inspiration and a great example to everyone.


How many times did a chance of helping someone else cross your path? What did you do during that time?

Many of us hesitate to help one another and just go on with our daily lives not caring about what other people are going through.

You might be comfortable in your life or in the confines of your home right now but someone else out there is suffering from something.

A child on the street might be hungry right now and haven’t eaten for days. He feels cold out there in the bareness of the outside world.

A mother could be suffering in a war torn country, looking for her child whom she hasn’t seen for days now.

A family out there has no roof to protect them from a cold stormy night.

Many people are crying, suffering, begging for help. What are you willing to do to lend a helping hand?

Mr. Winton wasn’t a politician, a public figure or a military man. It wasn’t his responsibility to save the war-stricken children of Czechoslovakia, but he went out of his way and helped them.

Let his story be an instrument for us to rethink about our lives and follow on his footsteps. You don’t have to go to a country ill-fated by war, but you can do even the smallest thing to help out someone today.

Give food to the hungry child out there on the street.

Comfort and help a worried mother find her child.

Provide shelter for someone who is homeless.

Be there for someone who is in need.


Even the simplest act of kindness can go a thousand miles; as long as it comes from your heart with no expectations of reciprocation.

Lend a helping hand today and feel the wonderful joy it brings to your heart.

One day, when the time comes that you have to face your creator, you can gladly surrender all of you with a light and joyous heart.

Images courtesy of Pixabay

The New York Times Website, Authors: Daniel Victor and Robert D. McFadden

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