Happy birthday, Sir Nicholas

It’s the 106th birthday of Sir Nicholas Winton, a British humanitarian who organized the rescue of 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War, in an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport. Winton found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. 

After the war was over, Winton told no one about his humanitarian exploits for many years, and might never have done so had his wife not discovered an old scrapbook of his in their attic in 1988. It contained lists of the children he had saved, along with their parents’ names and the names and addresses of the British families that had taken them in. By sending letters to these addresses, eighty of “Winton’s children” were found in Britain. 

The world found out about Winton’s work during an episode of the BBC television program That’s Life, when Winton was invited to be a member of the audience. The program’s host showed Winton’s scrapbook and explained to the audience what he had done; she then asked whether any members of the audience owed their lives to Winton, and, if so, to stand. More than two dozen people surrounding Winton rose to their feet and applauded.

Memorial to Sir Nicholas Winton at Prague main railway station, installed in 2009.

In 2002 Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his work on the Czech Kindertransport, and in 2014 he was awarded the highest honour of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion, by Czech President Miloš Zeman.


Filed under History, World War II

2 responses to “Happy birthday, Sir Nicholas

  1. Ting

    Oh, wow. That was so interesting to me. My aunt by marriage is Czech and spent her teenage years in a German concentration camp, along with her mother and older brother. Her father was the highest general in the Czech army and they were friends with the president, so they were essentially political prisoners. Her father was sent to London to assist the British in the fight against the Nazis, so my aunt and her mother and brother were essentially political prisoners in that concentration camp. The Nazis were trying to get information out of them about the general’s location, etc. When the Nazi’s came to their home to take them away, they left the 6 year old younger sister standing on the front porch wailing. That story has always left the worst picture in my mind. Fortunately, they had friends and family right there in the neighborhood who took her in and raised her until they were all reunited again after the war. Only to be run out again shortly thereafter by the Communists. The poor Czechs have had it rough for a country that in its heart values democracy – at least according to my aunt.

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    • Oh, Ting, that’s a horrible but inspiring story! And you’re right that the poor Czechs (and Poles and Slavs, etc.) got the very worst during those years from both the Nazis and the Commies. Two of my very best friends are Czechs, so I can’t help but sympathize with what they’ve been though.

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