They say a person’s true character is revealed by what he does when no one is looking. Those words describe Nicholas Winton perfectly.
Born in England in 1909, he was baptized as a member of the Anglican Church by his parents who were of German Jewish ancestry. He became a successful stockbroker. In December 1938, a friend asked Winton to forego his planned ski vacation and visit him in Czechoslovakia, where he had traveled in his capacity as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. This committee had been established in October 1938 to provide assistance for refugees under the terms of the Munich Pact. Convinced war was approaching, Winton decided to go. On arrival, Blake and Winton visited refugee camps filled to capacity with Jews and political opponents from the Sudetenland. Winton was alarmed by the violence he witnessed against the Jewish community. When he heard of subsequent efforts of Jewish agencies in Britain to rescue German and Austrian Jewish children on the so-called Kindertransport, an effort that eventually brought about 10,000 unaccompanied children to safety in Great Britain, Winton summoned a small group of people to organize a similar rescue operation for children imperiled by the impending German dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
Winton immediately established a Children’s Section and, using the name of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, initially without authorization, began taking applications from parents at his hotel in Prague. As his operation expanded, he opened an office in central Prague. Soon, thousands of parents lined up outside of Winton’s Children Section’s office seeking a safe haven for their children.
Winton returned to London to organize the rescue operation on that end. He raised money to fund the transports of the children and the 50 pound per child guarantee demanded by the British government to fund the children’s eventual departure from Britain. He also had to find British families willing to care for the refugee children. By day, Winton worked at his regular job on the Stock Exchange, and then devoted late afternoons and evenings to his rescue efforts. He made a great effort to raise money and find foster homes to bring as many children as possible to safety.
The first transport of children organized by Winton left Prague by plane for London on March 14, 1939, the day before the Germans occupied the Czech lands. After the Germans established a Protectorate in the Czech provinces, Winton organized seven further transports that departed by rail out of Prague and across Germany to the Atlantic Coast, then by ship across the English Channel to Britain. At the train station in London, British foster parents waited to collect the children. The last trainload of children left Prague on August 2, 1939. Rescue activities ceased when Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war in Germany in early September 1939.
After the war, Nicholas Winton’s rescue efforts remained virtually unknown. It was not until 1988, when his wife Grete found a scrapbook from 1939 with dusty record of names, pictures and documents detailing a story of redemption from the Holocaust, that Winton spoke of his all-but-forgotten work in the deliverance of children who, like the parents who gave them up to save their lives, were destined for Nazi concentration camps and extermination. The total number of children Winton saved was 669.
Winton was a silent hero who did what was right against great evil. We may never know how many generations were saved from those 669 children. This world can use some more heroes with true character like Nicholas Winton. Will that someone be you?
Romans 5:4 Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.