25 August 2014

The Man Who Saved Hundreds of Children, Part 1

(Part one of two)

Nicholas Winton
Unlike today’s politicians who like to trumpet their achievements for self-promotion, there are several people in the past and present who have strived hard to help others without expecting any kind of reward or recognition. They change a lot of lives for the better and they remain unappreciated, but they don’t mind that because that is how they choose to live. For that alone, we owe these noble individuals a lot.

One of these prominent individuals is Nicholas Winton born as Nicholas Wertheim on 19 May 1909). His story and sacrifice has saved a lot of children during one of the darkest moments in human history.

It started in December 1938, when the 29-year old Winton was about to leave for a skiing holiday in Switzerland. He received a phone call from his friend Martin Blake asking him to cancel his holiday and immediately come to Prague

"I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help. Don't bother bringing your skis,” Blake said.

When Winton arrived, he was asked to help in the camps, in which thousands of refugees were living in appalling conditions.

"I found out that the children of refugees and other groups of people who were enemies of Hitler weren't being looked after. I decided to try to get permits to Britain for them,” Winton recalled.

“I found out that the conditions which were laid down for bringing in a child were chiefly that you had a family that was willing and able to look after the child, and £50, which was quite a large sum of money in those days that was to be deposited at the Home Office,” he added.

“The situation was heartbreaking. Many of the refugees hadn't the price of a meal. Some of the mothers tried desperately to get money to buy food for themselves and their children. The parents desperately wanted at least to get their children to safety when they couldn't manage to get visas for the whole family. I began to realize what suffering there is when armies start to march," the London stockbroker added.

There was on-going rescue mission by Jewish and Christian organizations to bring children to safe countries and they dubbed their operation “Kindertransport,” but Winton set a separate rescue operation.

Thousands of parents heard about Winton’s unique endeavor and hundreds of them lined up in front of the new office in Vorsilska Street, Prague, drawing the attention of the Gestapo. Winton's office distributed questionnaires and registered the children. Winton appointed Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti to look after the Prague end when he returned to England. Many further requests for help came from Slovakia, a region east of Prague.

(To be continued.)