No one I can think of in recent times has united the Czech Republic (where I live) and the United Kingdom (where I am a subject) as warmly in admiration as Sir Nicholas Winton, who died on Wednesday at the age of 106.
In December 1938 the young Nicholas Winton, a stockbroker/banker who worked in London, Paris and Berlin, abandoned a planned skiing holiday in Switzerland to join a friend in Prague who had become involved in work with Jewish refugees. During the nine months that followed, before the outbreak of war curtailed their efforts, he and his co-workers saved 669 Czechoslovak, mainly Jewish, children. Bureaucratic and legal obstacles were many but Nicholas Winton nevertheless succeeded in arranging their travel to the United Kingdom and the raising of 50 pounds and individual sponsors for each child, which British law then required if they were to settle in Britain.
The children left from Prague’s Main Railway Station on the Kindertransport trains, where today they are commemorated by this sculpture of Sir Nicholas and two children:
They arrived some days later at Liverpool Street Station in London, where they are commemorated by another sculpture:
Until 1988 Nicholas Winton’s work was not widely known. It came to light only when his wife discovered a scrapbook containing details of many of the children he had saved. Subsequently, when many of the children had been traced, they and their children in turn, were able to celebrate his achievement. He was a man of principle, determination, and modesty, all three of these great virtues.
In 2014 the Czech Air Force brought Sir Nicholas to Prague where he was awarded the Czech Republic’s highest honour – the Order of the White Lion. At the same ceremony Nicholas Soames received this honour on behalf of his grandfather Sir Winston Churchill, who shared with Sir Nicholas at least the virtues of principle and determination.