A young stockbroker in London as the Nazi regime ravaged Europe, Sir Winton decided to leverage his privilege to help save young children.
When injustice becomes law, dissent becomes duty. However, everyone's method of dissent looks a little bit different. For some, it may mean going to protests. For others, joining rebel forces. For Sir Nicholas Winton, it meant rescuing several hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi concentration camps. Though he was just a young stockbroker in London, he wanted to put his privilege to good use. Therefore, Sir Winton decided to travel to Prague, where he hatched a plan to save hundreds of children just before World War II broke out. The BBC reports on his greatest achievements as a socialist hero.
He was born to Jewish parents as Nicholas Wertheimer in 1909 in England. His parents were happy to assimilate into British life, and thus, anglicized his name and baptized him into the Anglican church. The connections he had because of his family gave him unique insights about what the Nazi regime might be capable of across the continent of Europe. But it was only in December 1938 that he heard his real calling. He received a letter from his friend Martin Blake, who had already visited Prague on behalf of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. He wrote, "I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help. Don't bother bringing your skis."
Sir Winton hence traveled to Nazi-occupied Sudetenland. There, he saw refugee camps fill up with families who were forced to flee their homes in the harsh European winter. Shocked by the terrible conditions, the stockbroker decided to leverage his contacts and help refugees evacuate to England. Sir Winton and his friends Blake and Doreen Warriner quickly set up a headquarters of sorts in a hotel in Prague and started making a list of families who wanted to send their children to safety. The process of transporting vulnerable refugees to England was, much like today, tedious and difficult. Nonetheless, he persisted.
For every refugee who left Czechoslovakia, Sir Winton had to arrange a foster family. In some cases, he was able to convince close friends and family members to take in refugee children. In most instances, however, he had to persuade absolute strangers to give the children homes. Once the families were sorted, Sir Winton and the children had to travel through the heart of Nazi Germany by train, departing from Warsaw between March and August 1939. He made the potentially fatal train journey eight times. In this manner, he was successfully able to transport a grand total of 669 children from dangerous war conditions to safety. He is now heralded as a hero, but he strangely kept quiet about all the lives he saved. Why? "Because of the memory of those I didn’t," he revealed.