Sir Nicholas Winton MBE

* 1909  †︎ 2015

  • "Well, I was only then, when I came back to England, I was working on the stock exchange, which luckily was a job which finished at three-thirty in the afternoon so I could go back and carry on trying to, to make arrangements for bringing children over. And as I say, the British Committee for Refugees From Czechoslovakia didn’t give me… weren’t able to give me either office space or any help whatsoever. And I just had note paper printed with their name on it, and put under, “Children’s Section,” and worked from my private home up in Hampstead. And the Reverend Rosalind Lee, whom I mentioned, sent me the first hundred pounds to pay for correspondence and everything. And we got newspapers like Picture Post to write articles saying that we were looking for guarantors and that we were looking for homes where these children would be looked after until the end of war. And this started to trickle in, and as we got people who would take children, so we sent them lists of children and even photos of children, and got them to choose children, and we then sent these out to Trevor Chadwick in Prague, who then arranged for the transport and the getting the children together, whilst we arranged for the people who were receiving the children to arrive at Liverpool Street Station to receive them."

  • "Of the ones we know where the guarantor is still alive, they’re very faithful in keeping in touch. But of course, one must admit that a lot of the children weren’t happy where they were sent. And there was an aftercare department in fact when the war started that Mother looked after which tried when children had problems to get the problems settled or get new guarantors for them. But I certainly don’t assume and one cannot assume that every child we brought over went into a home and was well treated and was happy. A lot of them we know were. We certainly know some that were not, who were badly treated and used as servants. But quite frankly at the time I didn’t think of it and it really doesn’t concern me very greatly now. I mean you’re bound to have some who weren’t happy and all one can say is that they are still alive whereas most of the other children aren’t."

  • "But the time we really got going, the Germans were in charge because they arrived in March ’39. And then, of course, they had to get exit permits from the Germans for these children to leave. They then had to arrange with [inaudible] to get a train and they then had to arrange for escorts to go with the train. They then had to find out from [inaudible] how much the operation would cost and we had to send out money eventually to cover that cost. [Inaudible] then used blackmail tactics and two days before the train was due to leave they’d say they wanted another thousand pounds or something, which was a lot of money in those days, which once you got all the children moving to a railway station in Prague and once you got all the people who are going to receive the children in England posted that they had to be at Liverpool Street Station at a certain time, it’s not an operation that you could cancel. Whatever they’d ask for somehow or another we would have had to produce. But there was a lot of work to be done in Prague and it was done very well. The work we had to do in England was to find… to meet the conditions which the home office had laid down, which was having a guarantor fifty pounds for each person, which they designated as being money which would be used for the children’s eventual repatriation at the end of the war, if there were a war. There wasn’t a war to start with. And then we slowly got people coming in saying, yes that they would take a child. And that accelerated when a lady came to me who had been working for the British Committee and brought me all the names of their correspondence throughout the country. So I was able to use that with an appeal for children, which of course always brings results. For children and animals, the two most easiest things to get sympathy and raise money. So, it went slowly but it did work. I mean we never got, obviously, as many guarantors as we wanted, but we didn’t have an awful lot of time to work on them. And when we got a guarantee for a reasonable number of people, we’d produce the paper work, send it out to Prague, and Prague then had all the job of arranging the trains and the escorts and the money and dealing with all the parents and getting the children onto the train. It was quite an operation in Prague."

If you want to do charity, you have to be very tough

Sir Nicholas Winton in Prague, 2007
Sir Nicholas Winton in Prague, 2007
photo: wikipedia

Sir Nicholas George Wertheim - Winton MBE was born on 19 May 1909 in London, the capital of the British Empire, as the second of three children of banker Rudolph Wertheim. He grew up in Hampstead, north London, then studied at Stowe school, but left before his final exams. He worked in a number of investment banks in London, Hamburg, Berlin and Paris. He associated with left-wing circles and was a convinced pacifist, gradually realising the danger posed by Nazi Germany during the 1930s. On a visit to Prague at the end of 1938, he met people from the British Committee for Refugees and learned about the fate of refugees in Czechoslovakia and especially their children. During the following year he helped to organise a number of transports from Prague in which 669 children, mostly from Jewish or left-wing families, were able to leave the Second Czechoslovak Republic and then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. During the World War II he served with the Red Cross ambulance unit and also as a flying instructor with the Royal Air Force after he renounced his pacifism. After the war, he worked for the United Nations, negotiating the capital from the sale of German war booty for Jewish Agency for Israel, which went to the organization under the war reparations agreement. He also engaged in philanthropy and humanitarian work. He received numerous awards and honours for his work, and was knighted in 2004. Sir Nicholas Winton died on 1 July 2015. RECORDING SOURCE: