Sir Nicholas Winton




[This article was written in 2009 and published in]

What seemed so poignant to me about the film Schindler’s List was the cool, unabbreviated examination of man’s inhumanity to man in the context of the holocaust. The story concerns the relocation of the Polish Jews from Krakow in late 1939, shortly after the beginning of the second world war. (Such a momentous faux pas deserves no capitals.) Oskar Schindler, comes from Czechoslovakia to recruit cheap labour for his factories producing goods for the German army. By bribing various SS officers in the military, Schindler manages to acquire a factory to manufacture cheap mess kits for the army. Through Itzhak Stern who has contacts in the ghetto, he manages to recruit workers by falsifying their credentials and thus saves them from the nazi prison camps where they faced almost certain death. Because of Schindler, more than 1,100 Jews are saved and the survivors now number in excess of 6,000 at the time the film was made.

Although SS officers try to separate children from their mothers as they are boarding a train for the concentration camps, Schindler manages to obtain from the guards their release to go with their mothers to the the camps. He is then successful in gaining control of the guards at Zwittau-Brinnliltz permitting the prisoners to observe the Sabbath and ultimately saving their lives.

Now we have Joseph Ginat, one of the 669 mainly Jewish children saved from the Nazi death camps by Sir Nicholas Winton, known as the ‘British Schindler’. To celebrate his 100th birthday, a commemorative train left Prague to begin its four-day trip to London. Amongst the 22-passengers (of the 668-children who are still alive today) was Peter Meisl .

Winton was 29, packing for a skiing holiday in Switzerland when a friend advised him to come to Czechoslovakia instead. Kindertransporten had already begun but Czechoslovakia did not have a programme to save the Jewish children from Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews in Europe. Straight away, Winton started to raise money and organise trains to save the children, finding accommodation for them in Britain and arranging their visas. He set up an office in a hotel in Prague where queues formed with parents pleading for him to save their children by taking them to Britain.

Sir Nicholas Winton recalled their plight in an interview: “They knew all too well what their fate was likely to be. Their first thought was for the little ones. Never themselves. Practically all those parents perished in the camps.”

Unfortunately, many parents were forced on to the train to Auschwitz and perished there.

An amazing fact is that Sir Nicholas did not reveal his exploits to anyone till his wife found a scrapbook of clippings in the late 1980s in their attic in Maidenhead.

Sir Nicholas Winton

A statue of Winton with two children was unveiled at Prague Station.  His daughter says, “What he did seventy years ago is totally in keeping with how is is now.  He believes that if something needs to be done, you must do it.  Looking back doesn’t get people anywhere.  But if this event makes people more aware of what we should be doing now, then he will see it as a good thing.”

A clip from  That’s Life in 1988.

See the film review of One Life by Wendy Ide.


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