A great soul has just gone on to his Creator: Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 mainly Jewish children from Prague in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, died today. He was 106 years old.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton’s humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust.” Home Secretary Theresa May, called Sir Nicholas “a hero of the 20th century.” He set an “enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, described him as “one of the greatest people I have ever met.”
Sir Nicholas was a British-Jewish stockbroker. He gave up a 1938 skiing holiday to help Jewish refugees in flight. He organized foster families for these Jewish children in Britain by placing ads in the newspaper. He persuaded a reluctant bureaucracy “to allow all the children in despite incomplete documentation.”
Menemsha Films, an extraordinary distribution company which is devoted to high quality, Jewish-themed films, has an enthralling documentary about him: Nicky’s Family—narrated by the Canadian journalist, Joe Schlesinger, who was one of the 669.
In 1988, on a BBC talk show, “That’s Life,” the host invited Sir Winton to sit in the front row of the studio audience. He discovers, teary-eyed, that everyone in that audience—all the adults—had been saved by him.
Incredibly, this hero told no one about what he had done, not even his wife, who eventually discovered the truth among his papers. For nearly half a century he kept the details secret.
It is amazing and instructive that this British stockbroker exhibited such action-oriented moral courage while so many American Jews did nothing, or did far less. One is thunderstruck when one compares his derring-do compassion with the sadistic cruelty of British sailors who hounded and shot at the so-called illegal boats trying to bring in nearly half of the Jewish post-Holocaust survivors.
Sir Nicholas Winton was knighted in 2003. His son, Nick, says that his father’s legacy is about “encouraging people to make a difference and not waiting for something to be done or waiting for someone else to do it.”
It is estimated that there are now 6,000 people in the world today “who owe their lives to him.”