The man who single-handedly saved 669 Czechoslovakian children on the eve of World War II and is referred to as "Britain's Schindler" died Wednesday at 106 years of age.
Nicholas Winton, a life-long humanitarian who manned the children's section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, thereby saving hundreds of children from the Holocaust, did not mention his heroism for 50 years.
Born in London in 1909 to parents of German Jewish descent, Winton was raised a Christian. In 1938, a friend working in Prague as an associate of the British Committee of Refugees from Czechoslovakia, told Winton to come to Czechoslovakia to help with Jewish welfare.
Noting the huge influx of refugees from Sudetenland, an area recently annexed by Germany, Winton and his friend correctly assumed that Czech Jews soon would be sent to concentration camps. And as Czech children were being neglected in the refugee effort, Winton answered the call for help himself.
He began and ran the children's section of the British Committee of Refugees from Czechoslovakia, attempting to find homes for 6,000 Czech children. He even printed out pictures of the kids in an effort to tempt British families into housing them. He also coaxed British officials into procuring 50-pound notes for the kids so that they could pay for their trip back home. It was supposed to be a quick war.
The first 20 children were transported by plane, but once Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, they could only be brought by train. Through eight train trips from Germany to England, Winton rescued 669 kids. The last train, carrying 250 children, was scheduled to depart the same day that England declared war on Germany and never left. None of those children made it through the war.
During the war, Winton served as part of the Royal Air Force and continued to contribute to refugee organizations. His charitable support grew after the war, especially in his hometown of Maidenhead. For more than 40 years he was president of the Maidenhead branch of the learning disability charity, Mencap, and also worked to establish homes for the elderly. Two are named for him: Nicholas House and Winton House.
Fifty years after Winton's actions, in 1988, his wife Grete found papers in their attic that spoke about his work during WWII. Until then, neither she nor anyone else had ever heard about Winton's bravery. She finally persuaded him to tell his story.
"There are all kinds of things you don't talk about, even with your family," Winton said in 1999. "Everything that happened before the war actually didn't feel important in the light of the war itself."
His tale became particularly well-known when the BBC found some of the children whom he had saved, dubbed "Nicky's Children," and reunited Winton with them during an emotional event on television.
In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Winton. He also was awarded the highest tribute of Czechoslovakia: the Order of the White Lion.
"At the time, everybody said, 'Isn't it wonderful what you've done for the Jews? You saved all these Jewish people,"' Winton said. "When it was first said to me, it came almost as a revelation because I didn't do it particularly for that reason. I was there to save children."
Grete died in 1999. He is survived by his daughter Barbara and his two grandchildren, all of whom were by his side at his passing.