Sir Nicholas Winton is not only a British icon, he is also a Czech icon as well as being known around the globe for his rescue of 669, mainly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of the Second World War. His story of rescue was hidden away for many years until his wife discovered a scrapbook.

Earlier years

Nicholas George Winton was born in West Hampstead, London on May 19th 1909. He was soon baptized as a Christian within the Anglican Church although his parents had German-Jewish heritage. The Winton family name was actually Wertheimer but they changed their surname to Winton so that it sounded more British. Winton’s father was called Rudolph and he was a bank manager and Winton’s mother was called Barbara. Winton became a broker at the London Stock Exchange. He was also a socialist and soon became very concerned about the growing dangers of the Nazi party.


The Munich Agreement of September 29th 1938 gave portions of Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland, to Nazi Germany. The Sudetenland was the name given to the northern, southern, and western border areas of Czechoslovakia which were inhabited by many German speakers. With the annexation of these areas, Jewish people felt under threat from the Nazi party. Laws that were in place in Germany were then implemented in the Sudetenland. These laws stripped Jewish people of their rights. Similarly to the situation in Germany, many Jewish people wanted to emigrate to escape Nazi persecution.


In December 1938, Winton was planning a skiing trip to Switzerland but was then asked to visit Prague to assist his friend Martin Blake with welfare work. Little did Winton know that this decision would not only affect him tremendously, but it would have life-changing effects for hundreds of Jewish children and their families in Czechoslovakia. Winton did not work on his own. Blake had been in Czechoslovakia as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. The committee was established in October 1938 to help refugees who had suffered because of the German annexation of the Sudeten regions. While in Prague Winton visited refugee camps in the Sudetenland and saw first-hand the conditions that Jewish people were living in. Doreen Wariner was the lady who arranged for Winton to visit the refugee camps.

Winton was aware of the Central British Fund’s scheme to save children. The Kindertransports helped rescue children from Germany and Austria from December 1938 onwards, but at this time few were turning their attention to the refugees in Czechoslovakia. However, the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia was, and Winton established a subcommittee within this organisation to specifically help children. As was the case with the Kindertransports from Germany and Austria, thousands of parents queued up to get their children to the safety of Britain. Winton first began taking applications in a Prague hotel, but as people heard about the man who wanted to save children’s lives he soon had to find office space in Prague because so many parents wanted to apply for the Czech Children’s Transports. Trevor Chadwick and Doreen Warriner were able to send a few children to London by plane but the majority of the children left Prague without their parents from the Wilson Station.

The Czech Children’s Transports

The first transport to leave Prague for Britain left on March 14th, 1939 but the first Winton transport was bound for Sweden. The last transport of 68 children left Prague on August 2nd 1939. However, there was a transport that was scheduled to leave Prague in September but this train never left because the Second World War was declared. Winton returned to London and met the children who arrived in Britain. He raised funds for the rescue operation and he found willing families who would look after the children.

Winton is regarded as a symbol of humanitarian rescue efforts, and he is a British rescuer. Some have seen his Czech Children’s Transports as a part of the Kindertransports. Others, however, have suggested that these transports are not part of the initial Kindertransports because they were not organised by the Central British Fund’s subcommittee, the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany. However, Winton was in contact with this committee. The two groups were similar in the fact that they rescued children and helped fund, care, and shelter them.

A hidden story yet to be uncovered

Winton had not told anyone, not even his wife, about his extraordinary rescue efforts before the outbreak of the Second World War. His scrapbook of the children’s names, births, and photographs had lain hidden away in his house for years until one day his wife came across this precious item. She found the list of the children who he had saved. The year was now 1988. At this time, there was growing interest in the Kindertransports and the Kinder themselves held the first reunions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Kinder too had wondered who had rescued them.

In a remarkable 1988 edition of the BBC television programme That’s Life, Winton sat in the audience as the TV host, Esther Rantzen, started to talk about his rescue of Czech children in 1939. As the camera panned over the audience, guests began to stand up – these were some of the children (now adults) who Winton had rescued. For many of them, it was the first time since their day of arrival that they had seen this man again. He too had not seen many of the children who he had saved for many years.


Sir Nicholas Winton received a letter of thanks from the late Ezer Weizman, former president of the State of Israel. He was also made an honorary citizen of Prague. In 2002, Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to humanity. He was also named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government in 2010. There is a statue dedicated to him outside of the Prague main railway station which was unveiled in 2009. Winton was dubbed the British Schindler by Tony Blair, and he is among those who have been declared a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel. Finally, Winton was awarded the Order of the White Lion on October 28th 2014 by the Czech Republic for his rescue of Czech Jewish children.

The Winton Train

On September 1st 2009 a special train left London for Prague taking the original Kindertransport route. Winton, along with survivors and their families embarked upon a journey that they had made previously in 1939. This journey marked the 70th anniversary of the last Czech Kindertransport arranged by Winton. Many children who were on board this train in September 1939 never made it to safety as war was declared and all transports from Prague stopped.

There is also a drama called All My Loved Ones (1999) which tells his remarkable story.


Sir Nicholas Winton passed away on July 1st 2015 aged 106. He will forever be remembered as a humanitarian and someone who acted when they saw injustice.