Published on December 22nd, 2016 | by Michelle Roper-Shaw
This is the inspiring story of Nicholas Winton; a hero who was celebrated earlier this year in the British Humanitarians stamp issue for his work saving hundreds of Jewish children from Hitler.
In December 1938, Nicholas Winton was a young London stockbroker with the world at his feet, looking forward to a Christmas skiing holiday in Switzerland with his close friend Martin Blake. But it was around the 22nd December when Blake changed Nicholas’s life forever with a phone call. He rang Nicholas to say that the skiing was off and he was actually in Prague carrying out vital refugee work as thousands of Jews and others considered undesirable by Adolf Hitler fled into Czechoslovakia from Sudetenland after he annexed the region. Nicholas was persuaded to join him.
Soon Nicolas was rolling his sleeves up, arranging transport to Britain for Czech children whose parents were desperately trying to keep them out of Nazi hands. German agents were on the prowl in Prague. It was a tense and dangerous city but for nine months Nicholas carried on his work, in Prague and in London, putting youngsters on train after train, arranging foster parents in Britain, lobbying the Home Office for help.
He saved in total 669 children, mostly Jewish from death in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. He was often dubbed the “British Schindler” and appeared in March’s stamp issue British Humanitarians for his rescue work, including the British Humanitarians Presentation Pack.
Sadly, Nicholas died last year at the age of 105. He kept quiet about his time in Prague for 50 years and had no contact with the youngsters he had rescued from the Nazi killing machine. It was only by chance that his heroism was revealed and those he had saved. Now adults discovered the identity of the man who had given them life and celebration. It was all due to the discovery of an old book of memories from those nine extraordinary months.
After Nicholas left Prague, a fellow rescue volunteer presented him with a scrapbook. It was full of letters to and from Nicholas from parents thanking him for his efforts and records of the rescue operation. In the 1980’s Nicholas sought a home for the scrapbook because of its historical interest. It finally came to Holocaust historian Elisabeth Maxwell, the wife of Mirror Group Chief Robert Maxwell. This led to an article in the Sunday Mirror about the rescued children, and to many of them being traced.
An Emotional Reunion of the “Kindertransport” Survivors
Subsequently, the publicity around this newspaper article led to the now-famous episode of the BBC show “That’s Life”. Presenter Esther Rantzen lured Nicholas to the studio which she had filled with his “children”, now middle-aged. She asked if anyone present had been saved by him and five rows of rescued children (now adults) stood up.
It was a very tearful reunion for them all, but a fitting tribute to the kind man whose generous heart had given so many people a future. That is why today and Christmas celebrates the man they call Saint Nicholas.