Evacuees greet holocaust rescuer

Seventy years ago, a 30-year-old stockbroker named Nicholas Winton stood nervously on a platform at Liverpool Street Station in central London.



The train that eventually pulled to a stop in front of him was one of eight he had arranged to carry hundreds of young children, most of whom were Jewish, on a treacherous 642-mile journey across Nazi Germany from Prague to London.

His actions were to save 669 of them from almost certain death in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Today, Sir Nicholas – who was knighted in 2003 and is now 100 years old – met 22 of the people he helped evacuate, after they recreated the journey to mark the 70th anniversary of their escape.

The centenarian, from Maidenhead in Berkshire, masterminded their removal to Britain shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. He has come to be known as the “British Schindler”.

Today, a steam train from Prague again arrived at Liverpool Street, and Sir Nicholas was standing on the platform once more, greeting the surviving evacuees with the words: “It’s wonderful to see you all after 70 years. Don’t leave it quite so long until we meet here again.”

Surrounded by a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered to witness the reunion, he gave an emotional speech on the platform where he had stood seven decades earlier.

Describing the scene at the station in 1939, he said: “It was a question of getting a lot of little children together with the families that were going to look after them. It was quite difficult to get them together and, of course, every child needed to be signed for.

“Anyway, it all worked out very well and it’s wonderful that it did work out so well because, after all, history could have made it very different.”

Just before Christmas 1938, the young Sir Nicholas was packing for a skiing holiday when he received a telephone call from a friend, Martin Blake, who was working in a refugee camp in Czechoslovakia, which had already been occupied by the Nazis.

Blake told him he needed his help in the camp, and the young stockbroker was so affected by the plight of the refugee children he met in Prague that he decided to find a way for them to escape.

Sir Nicholas’s grandson, Laurence Watson, 21, spoke with pride about his grandfather’s actions. “It’s very strange when someone you know as a relative turns out to be a hero,” he said.

“There has always been bad things going on in the world and there has always been wars and conflicts. You see it everyday in the newspapers.

“Very occasionally you meet someone who has read those same articles but who decides to do something about it. That’s what my granddad did. He said ‘something needs doing and I am going to do it’.”

Alice Masters, 84, who fled her home in Czechoslovakia on one of Sir Nicholas’s trains, said her journey had been “very emotional”.

She said: “Seventy years ago it wasn’t so luxurious. Then, me and my sisters were three little girls crying our eyes out and eating sandwiches made for us by our mother. We knew that we were leaving our parents.

“"Going through Germany was a lot different then as well. When we got to the Hook of Holland we were delighted. Of course, we were very grateful to the British because nobody else would have taken the children.

“At first I didn’t want to take this [reunion] trip because it was so long, but I’m glad I did. It was nice to see some of the people who took the same train as me 70 years ago.”

Otto Deutsch, 81, who is originally from Vienna but now lives in Essex, said he “vividly” remembered leaving Prague in 1939.

“I never saw my parents again or my sister,” he said. “I remember my sister running after the train. She shouted: ‘Be a good boy. We will see you shortly.’ Whether she realised we would never see each other again, I don’t know.”

After the ceremony the evacuees and their relatives were taken to a reception at the Czech Embassy in London.

“I can’t remember much but I can remember being at Prague railway station, crying my eyes out,” said Alexandra Greensted, 77, an evacuee who has since settled in Maidstone, Kent. “Today has been very emotional.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness