There's no denying the sheer number of deaths during the Holocaust. It was a tragic event in history that never will be forgotten. We can only imagine the horrors faced by the Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
These horrors would have been frightened if you were a child. Not understanding what's happening or why it's happening, being separated from your family, and being surrounded by fear all the time.
Though millions lost their lives, there were 669 kids all saved by one man by the name of Sir Nicholas Winton.
Born Nicholas Wertheim, the family name was changed to Winton in an effort to integrate in England. Winton was baptized after his family converted to Christianity and eventually became a stock broker. In the winter of 1938, he had planned a ski trip to Switzerland but instead went to Prague to meet a man named Martin Blake. Blake had pleaded to Winton for help, and being the kind soul he is, Winton obliged.
In Prague, Winton felt he needed to help the Jewish children being threatened with death by the Nazis. From the desk of his hotel room, Winton single-handedly started an organization to help the kids facing concentration camps.
In November of 1938, Kristallnacht took place, which saw a massacre of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. This prompted the United Kingdom to accept refugees under the age of 17. All they needed was a place to stay and enough money to ensure they could return home when the Nazis were defeated.
Winton and Blake were worried the Germans would overtake Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia, so Winton established his organization quickly and started taking applications from parents. Thousands of people lined up hoping to find a safe haven for their children. Winton returned to London to fundraise money for the refugee children so they would qualify for immigration into the United Kingdom. By day, he continued his job as a stock broker and at night he would do all he could to help the kids.
Winton worked hard to get the Jewish children to the United Kingdom, but would continually hit problems because they had to cross through the Netherlands. Although the world was aware of the horrors in Nazi Germany, Dutch border guards were sending all refugees back. Winton refused to give up, however. He fought to have the children brought across the border, ensuring Dutch authorities these children would not be staying in their country.
The first group of children to be transported traveled on a plane from Prague to London on March 14, 1939, just one day before the Germans occupied Czech lands.
669 children were brought to the United Kingdom, and with the help of his mom, Winton was able to find homes and families for all of them. He knew most of their parents would perish in Auschwitz, so he made sure their homes were suitable for long-term stay.
Winton kept a list of every single child he helped, including their birthday and a picture if he had one. There was another train scheduled to leave Prague to retrieve 250 children from Germany, but unfortunately it was the same day Hitler invaded Poland, marking the start of World War II. Of the 250 kids who were supposed to be on that train, only two survived the invasion.
Though Winton was, by all accounts, a hero of epic proportions, he chose to keep his heroic actions quiet. He never spoke about what he did for all those kids, not even to his wife Grete. One day, 50 years later, Grete was cleaning their attic and found Winton's notebook with all the names and pictures of the kids.
Grete knew her husband needed to be recognized, so she handed the notebook over to a journalist to try and find all the people he had helped. Winton was invited on to a BBC program where he believed he was just going to be thanked for his work during the war.
It was much, much more than that.
Every person in the studio audience was someone Winton had saved.
After Grete brought Winton's heroic actions to light, he was given the recognition he deserves. He was given the Czech Republic's highest distinction, the Order of the White Lion. He received a letter of thanks from the late Ezer Weizman, former president of the State of Israel. Winton was also given honorary citizenship to Prague, and received knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2015, Sir Nicholas Winton unfortunately passed away at 106 years old. We cannot thank him enough for the incredible selflessness he showed during a time of war and discrimination.