With the passing of Sir Nicholas Winton on July 1, 2015, our thoughts are with his family and friends.

At this time of sadness it is also time to celebrate and reflect on the life of a most humble man, who regardless of how ordinary he felt, was an extraordinary saviour for hundreds of children.

In 1938 Nicholas Winton, then a stockbroker, was asked by his friend Martin Blake to change his skiing holiday plans and visit Czechoslovakia. Blake was an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, established in October 1938 to assist refugees created by the Nazi annexation of Sudetenland. During the trip Winton visited refugee camps filled with people displaced by the Nazi regime including Jewish people and political opponents.

Convinced Nazi expansionism would engulf more of the region, and alarmed by the violence against the Jewish populations of Germany and Austria during the November Pogrom also known as Kristallnacht, Winton decided to act. He had heard about the Kindertransport, an effort by Jewish organisations in Britain to rescue German and Austrian Jewish children from the Nazi regime. Along similar lines, he brought a small group of people together with the aim of rescuing children from Czechoslovakia.

As word of the operation spread, applications made by parents or guardians to get children away from Nazi persecution spiralled. People lined up to try and secure their children a passage to safety. Applications taken, Winton returned to London to further organise the operation. Families willing to foster the children needed to be found, and money raised for transportation. Additionally a £50 guarantee was needed for each child as the British government envisaged the children would travel on from Britain. At the same time Winton continued his work as a stockbroker.  

The first group of children left Prague for London by plane on March 14, 1939. Seven rail transports followed from Prague, via Germany, to the coast before the children crossed the Channel and arrived in Britain. The last train of children left Prague on August 2, 1939. Once war was declared in September 1939 the rescue operation was halted.

Many of the children who came to safety on a Winton transport would never see their parents or wider family again. Murdered by the Nazis solely because of who they were, by the end of the Holocaust entire families had been destroyed. 

Nicholas Winton’s rescue operation brought at least 669 children facing great danger from Nazism to safety in Britain. These children, now grown have gone on to have lives and families of their own which would never have existed without Winton.  

Despite this his rescue efforts remained virtually unknown until 1988 when his scrapbook, documenting the children rescued by his efforts, led to his moving appearance on Esther Rantzen’s show That’s Life! Rantzen had seen the scrapbook and the producers arranged for a deeply moving meeting of Nicholas Winton and children he rescued.

Over the years Nicholas Winton received multiple awards for his work including receiving a knighthood in 2002 for his services to humanity. However awards and accolades never appeared to mean much to an extraordinary and humble man, who prioritised doing the right thing and moral courage. Perhaps his greatest reward was seeing how he his actions inspire others to stand against evil, and do the right thing.

His daughter Barbara Winton writes in his biography ‘My father’s wish for his biography, having agreed to me writing it, is that it should not promote hero worship or the urge for a continual revisiting of history, but if anything, that it might inspire people to recognise that they too can act ethically in the world and make a positive difference to the lives of others in whatever area they feel strongly about, whether it be international crises or nearer to home, in their own community.’

Lord Dubs, one of the children rescued by Winton, said in tribute ‘his legacy is that when there is a need for you to do something for your fellow human beings, you have got to do it’.

At the Centre our Journey exhibition is a testament to Nicholas Winton as it chronicles the stories of children saved on the Kindertransport, and of Sue Pearson, a ‘Winton child’. When students come through the exhibition they learn about propaganda, indoctrination, and how this turns to persecution and hate. We hope that children leave with questions, about the world, about the things people say and do in everyday life, and an awareness of how our actions can impact others.

The world is a greater place for Sir Nicholas Winton’s life; he refused to be a bystander and through moral courage saved hundreds of lives. His legacy can continue to inspire us all to do what’s right, when it is needed most. 

A bust of Sir Nicholas Winton is featured in the Journey exhibition- this is on loan from the Jewish Museum, London.





BBC News (2015) ‘Holocaust “hero” Sir Nicholas Winton dies aged 106’ (1 July 2015), BBC News [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-33350880 (Accessed 2 July 2015).

Langer, Emily (2015) ‘Nicholas Winton, rescuer of children during the Holocaust, dies at 106’ (1 July 2015), Washington Post [Online] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/nicholas-winton-rescuer-of-children-during-the-holocaust-dies-at-106/2015/07/01/78abbe24-2001-11e5-bf41-c23f5d3face1_story.html (Accessed 2 July 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ‘Nicholas Winton and the rescue of children from Czechoslovakia’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [Online] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007780 (Accessed 2 July 2015).

Winton, Barbara (2014) If It’s Not Impossible: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton Matador: Kibworth Beauchamp.