Sir Nicholas Winton honoured: Extraordinary story of the 'British Schindler' who rescued 669 children from Nazis in occupied Czechoslovakia

Sir Nicholas Winton, aged 105, was presented with Order of the White Lion by the Czech Republic president at a ceremony in Prague

Rob Williams
Wednesday 29 October 2014 13:17 GMT
Winton, aged 105, presented with Order of the White Lion by the Czech president in Prague
Winton, aged 105, presented with Order of the White Lion by the Czech president in Prague

Sir Nicholas Winton was just 29 when he saved 669 children, most of them Jews, from the Nazis in occupied Czechoslovakia, in an extraordinary act of kindness and bravery that saw him nicknamed 'The British Schindler'.

The story of Sir Nicholas' remarkable rescue began shortly before Christmas 1938 when the former stockbroker from Hampstead, who was planning a holiday to Switzerland at the time, heard of the plight of child refugees in besieged Czechoslovakia.

Cancelling his holiday, he visited a friend in Prague to see the situation for himself.

While there he single-handedly masterminded the transportation of children from the Nazi-occupied country to Britain, saving them from the concentration camps, and in many cases certain death.

During 1939 he organised eight evacuations of the children on the Czech 'Kindertransport' train. He arranged foster homes, acquired the necessary travel permits for the children and persuaded the Germans to allow the children to leave.

Sir Nicholas' rescue did not come to light for some 50 years after the events of 1939. He had not told anyone of his experiences and it was only discovered by his wife when she found a scrapbook.

Sir Nicholas is reunited with one of the women he saved

In 1988 Sir Nicholas was invited to appear on the BBC programme 'That's Life' with two of the people he had helped in the audience.

Now aged 105, Sir Nicholas has outlived many of those he helped in the dark days of 1939, and yesterday he added another honour to the list of his extraordinary achievements.

Sir Nicholas, who already has an MBE, a statue in his honour at Maidenhead railway station, a Pride of Britain lifetime award and a minor planet named after him, has now been awarded the Czech Republic’s highest honour, the Order of the White Lion.

At a special ceremony in Prague, Sir Nicholas was given the award, the highest civilian honour the country can bestow, after flying out to the country at the invitation of the Czech republic.

After being presented with the honour by Czech president Milos Zeman, Sir Nicholas said: "I thank the British people for making room for them, to accept them, and of course the enormous help given by so many of the Czechs who at that time were doing what they could to fight the Germans and to try and get the children out.

"In that respect, I was of some help and this is the result."

Sir Nicholas, from a German Jewish family, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was well aware of the urgency of the situation in 1939.

"I knew better than most, and certainly better than the politicians, what was going on in Germany. We had staying with us people who were refugees from Germany at that time. Some who knew they were in danger of their lives."

On his 105th birthday earlier this year the founder of the Czech Kindertransport operation was given a cake and card at his home in Maidenhead by newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, who is a member of the Prime Minister's Holocaust Commission.

He was also visited by Vera Schaufeld, one of the children he saved.

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