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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum