Children of Holocaust return to give thanks to Britain's forgotten Schindler

ON HIS finger, Nicholas Winton always wears a gold ring. It is inscribed with a text from the Jewish Talmud: "Save one life, save the world." It is the same text that grateful Jews inscribed on a ring for Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved 1,000 Jews from the Nazis.

Through Steven Spielberg's film, Schindler became world famous. Yet Mr Winton's achievement is equally great. He was a British banker whose courage and persistence meant that more than 600 Jewish children escaped from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia and made their way to safety in Britain.

Last night, some of "Winton's children" arrived again in Britain, nearly 60 years after they were plucked to safety from Prague as war clouds gathered over Europe. On Thursday, the Czech embassy held a "Thank You Britain" reception where Mr Winton, now 89, was reunited with some of the children he had helped save.

Among them was Vera Gissing, one of the children on "Winton's List". She has written a book, Pearls of Childhood, which recounts her experience of escaping from Prague.

"His incredible efforts ... resulted in 664 children escaping Hitler's clutches," she declared. "I was one of them. Not all but most of us were Jewish and had we remained in our own country we would have been bound not for Britain but for a concentration camp and an almost certain death ... To him we owe our freedom and life."

Mr Winton ensured that these children were transported out of Prague and found homes in Britain at a time when politicians were unconvinced there was to be a war.

In December 1938, Czechoslovakia faced a flood of refugees and political enemies of the Third Reich who had fled to Prague after the occupation of the Sudetenland. Asked by a friend of his on the British Committee for Refugees, Mr Winton went to Prague. His task, in the aftermath of the pogrom of Kristallnacht sparked by a Goebbels' speech - was to compile a list of the most vulnerable children. Hearing of him, Jewish parents formed long queues outside his office overnight.

"It seemed hopeless," he said years later. "Each group felt that they were the most urgent. How could I or anyone else in London choose the most urgent cases?"

Mr Winton returned to London armed with his list, to convince British politicians that war was imminent. "The politicians in England didn't realise what was going on. It was the time of appeasement and ... it was difficult to convince them that I was right and they were wrong."

The government stipulated that Czechoslovakian children would be admitted only if financially able British guardians could be found for everyone, with a guarantee of pounds 50 each (more than pounds 1,000 today).

Mr Winton's masterstroke was to have photographs of all of the children, sure that the sight of these young victims of war would convince potential guardians. "If someone wanted a child, they wanted to know what they would look like," he said. "It was efficacious and quick. You could show people a few pictures and then they could see."

Among the children he saved were acclaimed film director Karel Reisz and Dagmar Simova, cousin of the Czech-born United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It was not until the Eighties when one of the children contacted Mr Winton through the sheltered homes charity Abbeyfield Homes, which the former banker worked for. Other reunions followed. "It was very, very emotional," said Mr Winton. "It is always very emotional when I see them. I cannot go to the jamboree this weekend but I saw them on Thursday night at the embassy and it was very very good."

Mr Winton has been honoured by Czechoslovakia and Israel for his work, but he has yet to be honoured in Britain, which many of the "children" are now pushing for."He has saved the major part of my generation of Czechs," said Ms Gissing. "That is an incredible achievement. It was a mammoth task."

"I was in the right place at the right time. And it was obvious that something had to be done," is all Mr Winton will say. "It is good to get a chance to do the right thing."

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home