Milena Grenfell-Baines

* 1929  

  • “The war ended, and everyone thought they’d go home and find their parents. Back then no one knew what had happened. My parents never told us anything, and the other children who lived in English families didn’t know anything either. Some children never went back and stayed in their English families, they were adopted. Forty years later, when Winton’s book was found, the lady who found it wrote to all the addresses, and only about 200 of them replied. Of the 668 children, some 200 were found. After those 40 years they either didn’t want to [respond], or they’d died, left, were lost or adopted. Because we only know about those 200 children.”

  • “In 1937 we moved to Prague. […] On March 13, 1939, some gentleman allegedly came to us and he warned my father that he should leave immediately because the Gestapo was after him, and not only for what he had done for Thomas Mann. Father really did leave that evening, and the Germans arrived on March 15. I was nine and a half, and I was not really aware that our country would be occupied. In May mom told us that my sister and I would go to England. We were to learn some English there, but the only thing we learnt was to sing the English anthem a bit. On July 29, I was with my sister at the main station in Prague, where we said good-bye to mom and grandpa. I don’t remember if anyone else came to the train station, but grandpa gave me a diary where all our family had signed their names and wished me well.”

  • “We left the train station. I really almost don’t remember it. I remember that it was at night and I know that we did not cry. In the train compartment there was another girl with me, her name was Dáša, later she married as Šímová. She was a cousin of Madeleine Albright. Dáša told me after many years, we were friends for many years, that in that train compartment we held each other’s hand and we said that we would not cry. I don’t remember almost anything from the journey. Each of us had a backpack. Suitcases were stored somewhere else. The whole train car was closed. It was an ordinary train which went all the way to Holland, but we were locked in the car and we could not get off anywhere. There were about sixty or seventy of us in that train car, it was the seventh train. The last one (which really departed).”

  • “When we came to England, to London, this one man came to pick us up, and we went with him to a town near Manchester. Before that we had lived in a modern flat in Prague. This was a family that lived in a [terraced] house. In England there were whole streets of little houses stuck one next to the other. They had a living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms; the bath was in the kitchen. They had a daughter Mary, whom they sent to her grandma’s because they wanted me and my sister to stay together. They only had two bedrooms, so Mary lived with her grandmother and we lived with them. They were awfully kind to us. I got used to it very quickly. My sister Eva was four years old. She now says she was terribly shocked by it back then, she was awfully angry at her mum for sending her away. She didn’t speak nor cry the whole journey. She forgot how to speak Czech within a year.”

  • “I was going to an English school for two years and my parents then learnt that the Czech (Czechoslovak) government opened a Czechoslovak State School in England. My father did not want me to forget Czech, and it was an advantage for them that they could send me to that school; it was a boarding school. About hundred and twenty of us children gathered there, but they were not all from the Winton trains. Some of them were so-called Baťa children, some children almost forgot to speak Czech, and there were some children from the Sudeten region and they spoke half-Czech and half-German. The teachers were soldiers, because the Czech army arrived there in 1940. Our principal was a captain in the Czech army, but he had been a school teacher in Czechoslovakia before. There were all Czechs and Slovaks and one English teacher. They all had to write their own textbooks, because there was nothing. It was a very interesting school.”

  • “My grandma’s in the memorial, so are my uncles and aunts, they all died. My cousins were the same age as me and my sister. They were all taken to Terezín in 1942. The Adlers were taken straight to the extermination camp in Maly Trostinets. Grandma and Grandpa were transferred out of Terezín to another concentration camp, where they were killed. I found that out after the war, when I was already sixteen years old. It was strange in England - some people believed it, others didn’t. The information was inaccessible. No one went to see the concentration camps, it wasn’t possible. Just my father, who came back to England, was dreadfully unhappy about it.”

  • “Esther Rantzen, who had the well-known TV show ‘That’s life,’ which was broadcast every Sunday, got hold of it. We learnt a bit from the newspapers, but at that time we did not realize it. One day a phone rang and some woman introduced herself as Esther Rantzen. I replied: ‘And this is the Queen of England speaking,’ because I could not believe that Esther Rantzen would call me. She asked me: ‘What was your maiden name, Milena Fleischmannová? […] We have found the gentleman who had organized those trains which brought you to England and we are inviting him to London to our program and we want to invite several of you children as a surprise for him. […] I would be happy if you arrived. He will not know about it.’ She invited us to the studio, and there I met my friend Věra Gissingová. I knew her, she had organized the first reunion. There was Harry, too, and Hanuš Šnábl was also there.”

  • “I returned home. Some of those children are unfortunately no longer alive. As we spoke about it later, they sent them alone to Prague by airplane, and they arrived to Prague and there they were more or less left on they own and they went to search for their parents if they were still alive. Most of them did not find their parents, of course. After 1948, when communists came to power, the situation grew worse for some to them, and so they went to eleven different countries. I have or had friends all over the world. In America, Australia, Canada, France, Holland; each of them led his or her own life. Many of them became successful.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 12.09.2014

    (audio)
    duration: 02:15:42
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, Hroznová 7, 13.03.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 02:04:02
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

We, the Winton children, do not talk much about what we had been through, but we try to help

Photo from Proseč when I was seven. I play one of the role of one of the 'Little Beetles'
Photo from Proseč when I was seven. I play one of the role of one of the 'Little Beetles'
photo: archiv pamětnice

Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines was born in 1929 in Prague in the Jewish family Fleischmann. She grew up in Proseč near Skuteč in the Chrudim district where her mother’s family came from. When Milena was three years old her mother died and her father remarried. Rudolf Fleischmann worked as an accountant and he was one of the key figures in negotiating the granting of Czechoslovak citizenship to the German writer Thomas Mann for whom he arranged to receive the right of domicile in the Proseč town hall. From 1937 the family lived in Prague. At the end of July 1939, Milena Fleischmannová and her sister, who was six years younger, left in a children’s transport dispatched by Nicolas Winton from Prague to Great Britain. Both her parents later emigrated to Britain as well, but they were only able to take care of Milena’s younger sister. Milena attended the Czechoslovak State Boarding School in Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales during the war. She did not return to Czechoslovakia after the war and she studied nursing and infant childcare. In 1954 she married architect and urban planner George Grenfell-Baines (1908-2003), with whom she raised four children, two from his previous marriage and two children that were born to them. She is entitled to use the title Lady since her late husband was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1978. Milena Grenfell-Baines lives in Preston near Manchester in northern England, and she is actively involved in Czech-British cultural and social relations. In 1999 she received the Gratias Agit Award from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.