His name was Nicholas Winton, a quiet Englishman who recently died at the age of 106. He never got around to talking much about himself. Probably no one would have known had his wife not found the dusty scrapbook in their attic, and that didn’t happen until 1988. It was a faded record of names and pictures, a story from the Holocaust.
In 1938, Mr. Winton was a London stockbroker who for some unknown reason canceled a skiing vacation in Switzerland to go with a friend to help refugees in Czechoslovakia, which had just been annexed by Germany. What he saw there was not at all what he expected. Countless refugees were living in appalling conditions. War looked inevitable and escape, hopeless. Except that Britain had started a program called Kindertransport that allowed unaccompanied Jewish children to be admitted into the country so long as there was a host family for them. But there was nothing like that in Czechoslovakia. So Nicholas Winton started one. He bribed, forged documents, secretly met with the Gestapo, and spent every penny he could beg, borrow, or take from his own bank account. He met with desperate parents in his Prague hotel room, took pictures of the children, and sent them to his mother in England. She pleaded in newspaper ads, and church and synagogue bulletins, for foster families and money. Hundreds of families responded.
Hours before Hitler dismembered Czechoslovakia, the first 20 children left Prague on the first train. Eight more trains were lined up to take the rest of the children. Seven trains made it through. 669 children. The last train, with the other 250 children, left on Sept. 1,1939. It was the day Hitler invaded Poland. All borders closed, and Winton’s rescue ended. That last train disappeared. None of the children on it were ever seen again.
For fifty years, Nicholas Winton said nothing of the children. Only when his wife found the scrapbook did he tell her he saw those little ones every night in his dreams.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.~