Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE

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Nicholas George Winton (Wertheim)

Birthdate: (106)
Birthplace: West Hampstead, London, London Borough of Camden, Greater London, UK
Death: July 1, 2015 (106)
Wexham Hospital, Slough, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Rudolph Wertheim and Barbara Winton
Husband of Greta Winton
Father of Robin Winton; <private> Winton and <private> (Winton)
Brother of Charlotte Matilda Winton and Robert Charles Winton

Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
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Immediate Family

About Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE

Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE, (born 19 May 1909) is a British humanitarian who organized the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport. Winton found homes for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. The UK press has dubbed him the "British Schindler".

Winton was born in Hampstead, London to parents of German Jewish origin who had moved there in 1907.The family name was Wertheim, but they subsequently changed it to Winton in an effort at integration. The family eventually converted to Christianity, and Winton was baptized. In 1923 Winton entered Stowe School, which had just opened. He left without matriculating, attending night school while volunteering at the Midland Bank. Some time later, he went to Hamburg, Germany, where he began to work at Behrens Bank, and then Wasserman Bank in Berlin. In 1931 he moved to France, where he worked for the Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris, and earned a banking qualification. On returning to London, he worked as a stockbroker at the London Stock Exchange.

Heroes of the Holocaust: Ordinary Britons Who Risked Their Lives to Make a Difference by Lyn Smith Page 51 - 67

Page 54 … One of the the three children of Rudoph and Barbara Wertheim, Nicholas Winton was born in 1909, into an affluent home in West Hampstead. Although his mother was from a Jewish family from Nürnberg, Germany, and the family were well integrated in . . .

Page 67 ... Sir Nicholas Winton's work is particularly inspiring because the eight Prague transports were not officially part of the Kindertransport movement. Winton had to work independently in very difficult circumstances . . .

Humanitarian work

Just before Christmas 1938 Winton was about to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday, when he decided instead to travel to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to help a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work, and had called him asking for his help.

There he single-handedly established an organisation to aid children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis. He set up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square. In November 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, the House of Commons had approved a measure that would permit the entry of refugees younger than 17 years old into Britain, if they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for a ticket for their eventual return to their country of origin.

The Netherlands

An important obstacle was getting official permission to cross into the Netherlands, as the children were destined to embark on the ferry at the Hook of Holland. After Kristallnacht on 9-10 November 1938, the Dutch government had officially closed its borders to any Jewish refugees, and the border guards (marechaussee) actively searched for them and returned their captives to Germany, despite the horrors of Kristallnacht being well known in the Low Countries, as, for instance, from the Dutch-German border the synagogue in Aix-la-Chappelle could be seen burning, only 3 miles away.

Winton nevertheless succeeded, thanks to the guarantees he had obtained from the British. After the first train, things went relatively well crossing the Netherlands. Also active in saving Jewish children – some 10,000, mostly from Vienna and Berlin and mostly also via the Hook - was the Dutchwoman Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meier, so the plight of Jewish children was well known in the Netherlands. It is not known whether Winton and 'Tante Truus' (auntie Truus), as she was commonly known, ever met. In 2012 a statue was erected on the quai at the Hook to commemorate all those who saved Jewish children.

Winton found homes for 669 children, many of whose parents perished in Auschwitz. Winton's mother also worked with him to place the children in homes, and later hostels. Throughout the summer he placed advertisements seeking families to take them in. The last group of 250, which was intended to leave Prague on 1 September 1939 did not reach safety; the Nazis had invaded Poland, marking the start of World War II, and the children later perished in the concentration camps.

With the coming of war, Winton sought registration as a conscientious objector and served with the Red Cross, but in 1940 he rescinded his objection to join the Royal Air Force, Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was initially an airman, rising to sergeant by the time he was commissioned on 22 June 1944 as an acting pilot officer on probation . On 17 August 1944 he was promoted to pilot officer on probation. He was promoted to war substantive flying officer on 17 February 1945. He relinquished his commission on 19 May 1954, retaining the honorary rank of flight lieutenant.

Winton kept quiet about his humanitarian exploits for many years, until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988.

It contained lists of the children, including their parents' names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. By sending letters to these addresses, 80 of "Winton's children" were found in Britain.

The world found out about his work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That's Life! when he was invited as a member of the audience. At one point Winton's scrapbook was shown, and his achievements explained. The host of the programme, Esther Rantzen, asked whether any in the audience owed their lives to Winton, and, if so, to stand – more than two dozen people surrounding Winton rose and applauded.

Although Winton was baptised as Christian, his ancestry was considered entirely Jewish, which disqualified him from being declared a Righteous Gentile, but Yad Vashem in Israel has honored him. In 2010, Winton was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.

Notable people saved

  • Alfred Dubs, British Labor peer Lord
  • Karel Reisz, Film director (of "The French Lieutenant's Woman")
  • Renata Laxova
  • Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines,
  • Dagmar Simova, cousin of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright;
  • Joe Schlesinger, CBC news correspondent;
  • Julius Sidon from California, the brother of Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon of the Czech Republic;
  • Hugo Marom, Israeli aviation consultant and former Israel Air Force pilot;
  • Harry Warschauer, British journalist;
  • Vera Gissing, British author of "Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation," and the script for "The Power of Humanity."


Sir Nicholas is on record as acknowledging the vital roles of Beatrice Wellington, Doreen Warriner, Trevor Chadwick and others in Prague. Winton was only in Prague for about three weeks before the Nazis invaded. He never set foot on Prague Station. As he wrote "...Chadwick did the more difficult and dangerous work after the Nazis invaded...he deserves all praise". The full story is told in "The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938–39", with which Sir Nicholas says he is "delighted".


In the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours Winton was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his work in establishing the Abbeyfield homes for the elderly in Britain, and in the 2002 New Year Honours, he was knighted in recognition of his work on the Czech Kindertransport. He met the Queen again during her state visit to Bratislava, Slovakia in October 2008.b In 2003, Winton received the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Winton was awarded Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by the Czech President in 1998. In 2008, he was honoured by the Czech government in several ways. An elementary school in Kunžak is named after him, and he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I. He was also nominated by the Czech government for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

The minor planet 19384 Winton was named in his honour by Czech astronomers Jana Tichá and Miloš Tichý.

A statue in his honour was unveiled at Maidenhead railway station by Home Secretary and local MP for Maidenhead, Theresa May, in September 2010. Created by Lydia Karpinska, it depicts Winton relaxing on a bench whilst reading a book.

Another statue in his honour is on 'platform one' of the Praha hlavní nádraží railway station. It depicts Winton holding a child and standing next to another one. Created by Flor Kent, it was unveiled as part of a larger commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the last Kindertransport train, 1 September 2009 (see also Winton train, below).

100th birthday

To celebrate his 100th birthday, he flew over the White Waltham Airfield in a microlight piloted by Judy Leden, the daughter of one of the boys he saved. His birthday was also marked by the publication of a profile in the Jewish Chronicle.

Winton train

On 1 September 2009 a special "Winton Train" set off from the Prague Main railway station. The train, comprising an original locomotive and carriages used in the 1930s, headed to London via the original Kindertransport route. On board were several surviving "Winton children" and their descendants, who were welcomed by Winton in London. The occasion marked the 70th anniversary of the intended last

Kindertransport, due to set off on 3 September 1939 but prevented by the outbreak of the Second World War. At the train's departure, Winton's statue was unveiled at the railway station. The Winton Train passed through the Netherlands largely unnoticed.

Popular culture

Winton's work is the subject of three films by Slovak filmmaker Matej Mináč: the drama All My Loved Ones (1999), in which Winton was played by Rupert Graves, the documentary The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton (Síla lidskosti—Nicholas Winton, 2002), which won an Emmy Award. and the documentary drama Nicky's Family (Nickyho rodina, 2011).

A play Numbers from Prague about Sir Nicholas Winton was performed in Cambridge, UK in January 2011.


The Last Rescuer

In 1989, Danish-born Greta Winton, who died four years ago, came across an old leather briefcase in an attic. It contained lists of children and letters from their parents, dating back 50 years. She had stumbled on a story about her husband, Nicholas, that was as gripping as anything Hollywood ever produced - one, which for all that time he had concealed better than any secret love.

The lists were the only remaining record of 669 children whom Nicholas Winton single-handedly spirited out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938-39 to safety in Britain. Most of the surviving children never even knew who their rescuer was until recently.

As Winton's son, Nick, discovered, his father had a trunk full of documents from 1938 and 1939, but the family wasn't sure what to with them until Dr. Betty Maxwell, (the wife of the late news magnate Robert Maxwell) heard the story and wrote an article about the incredible tale Winton had modestly concealed for 50 years.

British writer Vera Gissing, one of the rescued children, wrote a memoir "Pearls of Childhood," which helped further publicize Winton's deeds. "He is almost an adopted parent for us all, because nearly all of us lost our parents in the Holocaust," she said.

Winton was finally reunited with hundreds of the children - including British Labor peer Lord "Alf" Dubs and film director (of "The French Lieutenant's Woman") Karel Reisz, who died last November - at an emotional gathering for 5,000 descendants of the "Winton children."

Lord Dubs was only seven when he got out of Prague and found out from a television program a few years ago that Winton had saved him. "He is Britain's last living rescuer," said Dubs. Gissing said: "He saved most of the Czech Jewish children of my generation. I owe him my life and those of my children and their children." Reisz was shocked when he found out one man was behind the rescues: "He let the world believe the Red Cross had organized it."

Small part of my life'

Winton became an instant hero in the newly liberated Czech Republic. He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Prague and in 1998, President Vaclav Havel presented him with the Order of Marsaryk at a grand ceremony in Hradcany Castle. The Czech filmmaker Matej Minac made two movies about the children's rescue - "All My Loved Ones," and more recently "Nicholas Winton - The Power of Humanity," which won an Emmy last year.

Yad Vashem in Israel has honored him and the crowning glory came this New Year when Britain's Queen Elizabeth made him Sir Nicholas Winton, at the age of 93, "for services to humanity in saving Jewish children."

Winton says he kept silent about his rescue efforts for so long "because it was a small part of my life," and also because he was deeply saddened that his last Kindertransport out of Prague failed to make it to freedom.

In 1938, a friend of Winton's at the British embassy in Prague invited the 29-year-old stockbroker to visit. While there, he was asked to help in refugee camps and he quickly realized danger was approaching fast for the country's Jewish and refugee children. He set up an "office" at a dining-room table at his hotel in Wenceslas Square, and began working around the clock to organize escape for refugee children. Word of the odd "Englishman of Wenceslas Square" spread like wildfire and parents rushed to persuade him to put their children on his lists.

"The problem of the children was that there was no organization to deal with it, and nobody thought there was any chance of getting the children into any country," he said in an interview on his visit to Prague. "But nothing is impossible which is actually possible - if you follow what I mean." Winton found that Sweden and Britain were willing to accept child refugees and he quickly arranged for Sweden to take a first group of 30.

Winton returned to Britain and began immediately organizing transports to get the children out of Czechoslovakia, cooperating with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia and the Czech travel agency Cedok. He persuaded the Home Office to let the children into Britain but each family sponsoring a child had to put up a cash advance of 50 pounds - a huge sum for this time of economic depression, equivalent to about $2,500 today - and they had to commit to looking after the children until they were 17.

Despite the great hurdles, Winton got 669 children out to Britain, plus a final train load of 250 who never made it. This ninth and last train was due to depart on September 3, 1939, but was prevented from leaving when the Nazis invaded Poland. The children were never seen again and are believed to have perished with 1.1 million Czech Jews at Auschwitz.

The rescued children never saw their parents again either, but their more than 5,000 descendants are alive today only because of Winton - the British Schindler. Sir Nicholas said recently: "If the train had been one day earlier, it would have gone. Not one of those children was heard of again - an awful, awful feeling that has stayed with me since." Winton joined the Royal Air Force for the duration of the war and kept silent about his Prague escapades.

Since his retirement as a stockbroker 30 years ago, Winton has been a volunteer working with the elderly and mentally disabled, and the Queen had already awarded him an MBE in 1993 for this work. When his rescue of the Czech children was discovered, he just shrugged and said:

"I did it merely because it had to be done, and nobody else was doing it."

It wasn't hindsight. In a letter to a friend in 1939, Winton wrote: "There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness. The latter is, in my opinion, the giving of one's time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out, finding and helping those who are suffering and in danger, and not merely in leading an exemplary life, in a purely passive way of doing no wrong."

These were some of the rescued children saved on Winton's List: Lord Dubs, British parliamentarian; Karel Reisz, British film director; Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, whose father, Rudolf Fleischmann, saved Thomas Mann by getting him Czech citizenship as Hitler rose in Germany; Dagmar Simova, cousin of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Joe Schlesinger, CBC news correspondent; Julius Sidon from California, the brother of Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon of the Czech Republic; Hugo Marom, Israeli aviation consultant and former Israel Air Force pilot; Harry Warschauer, British journalist; and Vera Gissing, British author of "Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation," and the script for "The Power of Humanity."

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Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE's Timeline

May 19, 1909
London, London Borough of Camden, Greater London, UK
Age 45
July 1, 2015
Age 106
Slough, United Kingdom