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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform