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Nicholas Winton, then a 29-year-old London stockbroker, visited Prague, Czechoslovakia, in late 1938 at the invitation of a friend at the British Embassy. When he arrived, the British team working in newly erected refugee camps asked him to lend a hand.

Nicholas Winton spent only a couple of months in Prague but was alarmed by the influx of refugees, endangered by the imminent Nazi invasion. Heartbroken by a visit to a refugee camp he immediately recognized the advancing danger and decided to make every effort to get the children outside the reach of Nazi power.

'The commission was dealing with the elderly and vulnerable and people in the camps kept telling me that nobody was doing anything for the children,'
Nicholas Winton later recalled.

He set up office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square in Prague. Word got out of the Englishman of Wenceslas Square and parents flocked to the hotel to try to persuade him to put their children on the list, desperate to get them out before the Nazis invaded. 'It seemed hopeless,' he said years later, 'each group felt that they were the most urgent.'  But Winton managed to set up the organization for the Czech Kindertransport in Prague in early 1939 before he went back to London to handle all the necessary matters from Britain.

Back in London, Winton immediately began organizing transports to get the children out of the country, cooperating with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak travel agency Cedok. Working day and night he persuaded the Home Office to let the children in. For each child, he had to find a foster parent and a 50 pound guarantee, in those days a small fortune. He also had to raise money to help pay for the transports when contributions by the children's parents couldn't cover the costs.


"Winton's Children"
on the train

In nine months of campaigning as the war crept closer, Nicholas Winton managed to arrange for 669 children to get out on eight trains, Prague to London (a small group of 15 were flown out via Sweden). The ninth train - the biggest transport - was to leave Prague on 3 September, 1939, the day Britain entered the war - but the train never left the station. 'Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared,' Winton later recalled. 'None of the 250 children on board was seen again. We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain. If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling.'

None of the children set to flee that day survived the following years. Later, more than 15,000 Czech children were also killed.


A Jewish refugee child
- member of the first Kindertransport

The documentary "The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton," recalls the parents' anguish about sending their children away - aware of the possibility they would never see them again. Survivors share their memories - remembering how their parents' faces looked as they said goodbye and how the children's reactions ranged from sadness and fear to the sense of embarking on a new adventure.

 

 


 

Louis Bülow Privacy  ©2011-13
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