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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent