Reluctant hero Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from the Holocaust, dies at 106

July 3, 2015 • 1:00 pm

Nicholas Winton is not only an unknown hero, but a reluctant one.  A London stockbroker, he flew to Prague in 1938 and, seeing the many Jewish refugees (and prescient about what would happen to Europe’s Jews under the Nazis), he went to work organizing a series of railroad trains to evacuate Jewish children to Britain, one of the few countries that would accept them. Winton saved 669 lives in seven trainloads, but on Sept. 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, the trains stopped. The 669 children lived, but became orphans, as nearly all their parents died in the concentration camps.

Here’s Winton with one of his beneficiaries:

02wintonobit3-master675
From the NYT: A family picture of Nicholas Winton with one of the hundreds of Jewish children whose lives he saved during World War II. Credit Press Association, via Associated Press

Winton, whose effort was hercuclean—involving bribes, donations, and complicated paperwork—never spoke of his deed after the war. Indeed, even his wife didn’t know about it until fifty years after the war, when she found a scrapbook in the attic. Eventually his deeds were recognized (though he always minimized his role), and he received many accolades, including, in 2003, a knighthood.

According to the New York Times, Winton died Wednesday at the age of 106.  Do read the Times article; it’s a fantastic tale, and you’ll be astounded at how humble this man was. He’s my kind of hero: one who doesn’t boast of his accomplishments.

I learned about Winton when he appeared in a segment on the only television show I watch, Sixty Minutes. Do watch that 15-minute segment below; it will bring tears to your eyes when you see him meet up again, after many years, with some of the children he saved—now old people.

How many of us can claim to have done nearly as much good in this world?

Did that make your day?

35 thoughts on “Reluctant hero Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from the Holocaust, dies at 106

  1. My deepest respect for him!
    Let him be a role model for everyone.
    “I just didn’t talk bout it”
    Even Leonidas would approve this phrase.

    1. Indeed – everyone knows about Schindler and Wallenberg, but this guy …

      I realize that there was a lot of forging of papers done. Imagine the risk of simply doing *that*? He had to do 9arrange?) some from his own (UK) government, not just Nazi ones, too. Amazing.

  2. I did weep when, too on 60 Minutes originally first and only recently aired there, I witnessed the past comings and goings and thinkings, then doings of this man. Of the same genre of fabric he was as that which made Nurse Irena Sendler – and Banker John Riordan – renditions of human beings’ brains and hearts.

    I cried again day ‘fore yesterday when I learned Mr Winton / his core and essence was gone from us all.

    Blue

    1. It makes me so glad for Yad VaShem, which will hold onto their memories and continue to honor them and share them with future generations. I’m also glad for those who lived long enough to see themselves so honored.

    2. And this quite quiet man, too: Mr Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s vice – counsel to Lithuania during the same pogrom.

      Blue

      1. Now there’s a remarkable story. Thank you for pointing us to it.

        And I’m afraid that there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have done it.

  3. I met one of those children. She is retired, now, and lives in upstate NY, I think. She was on Long Island, when we met. I asked her about it. She said she saw herself as Christian, because the family that raised her was Christian, and that was pretty much the end of it. It seemed to me that she had lost all emotional connection with her birth family and that family’s heritage — on the surface. The facts that she said this in such a nonchalant yet cut and dried way, and that she retired from a clinical psychology practice, suggested otherwise (if you know what I mean).

  4. The work of Gilbert and Eleonor Kraus in bringing 50 Jewish children to the US only became known after they passed away.

  5. I wish goodness could as easily come by as the immensity of the wickedness of the Nazi regime.

  6. Amazing story and this fellow lived long to see the results of his deed. FDR will always have a very black mark for the lack of U.S. action concerning the Jews.

      1. A significant minority or perhaps even a majority of Canadian and American citizens and politicians were all complicit in the refusal to help Jewish refugees, not just the leaders.

        Witness the SS St. Louis which returned to Europe, having been refused landing of its Jewish passengers from Havana to Halifax.

        I would imagine it was the same for FDR as it was for Prime Minister Mackenzie King. There was intense lobbying by senior politicians for him to deny them sanctuary.

        1. It’s been over a decade since I learned about this inside The Holocaust Museum in D.C. From what I recall, though, antisemites in the State Department were refusing visas and papers to Jews, and somehow, someone in the Treasury Department got wind of it. It took that level of Departmental access to the President to get him to understand what was really going on and move to let Jews in. Even so, the State Department personnel continued to delay and drag their feet as much as possible, knowing that Jews were dying as they did. I heard, not long after that, that antisemitism is still very prevalent inside the State Department. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true even today.

  7. His story has been known to interested Israelis for several years.
    He was not awarded the Israeli honorary title for rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, “Righteous Among the Nations”, for some technical reason which I don’t fully understand (I think it has something to do with the personal risk to the rescuer), but his deeds were officially recognized by the President of Israel a few years ago.

      1. Maybe, but I believe that the reason was him not risking his life.
        There was a radio program about him when he died, and they said something about it, but I was in the middle of something else and couldn’t focus on it.

          1. Yesterday, I watched a video interview of him at 105 years of age. In it, he said his parents were Jewish. Apparently, it was his own youthful decision to go Christian and get baptized, and then to realize its mistake and go atheist as WWII was kicking off. Perhaps he didn’t qualify as a Righteous Gentile because he was more of a (secular) Jew than a Gentile, after all.

    1. What are terrific man! I’m motivated to share a little bit of that interview for those who didn’t watch it because it’s kind of relevant to ‘the mission’ of this website. Winton came from a jewish background and became a christian.

      Question: Has faith played a part in your life?

      For a long time I followed the Christian Faith. And when I was at Stowe I was baptised and was very strong in the Christian faith. And then I went to Germany and couldn’t reconcile the fact that the Church was praying for victory on both sides of the same war. And that I couldn’t reconcile. So then I left religion altogether.

      Question: Explain to me then your motivation, your impulses throughout your life , not just in the period we’ve discussed, in the 30s and 40s, but in your later life, a deep commitment to charitable work, your help of the elderly for many years you’ve been a key player in the Rotary club and in all its charitable works, you have worked for mental health charities, If it’s not faith that drives you, what is it?

      Ethics.

      Question: Explain that to me. What do you mean by Ethics?

      Well you know what Ethics are?

      Questioner: Values,Notions of what is good?

      Goodness, kindness, Love, honesty decency. Ethics ….. That standard of life. I believe in Ethics and if everybody believed in ethics we’d have no problems at all. That’s the only way out, forget the religious side.

      And later he’s asked if he’s frightened of dying.

      I’ve accepted the fact that there is nothing there. Those people who are frightened are frightened because they think there is something there. I don’t think there’s anything there.

      1. Wow. That is so spot on.

        I know that many Jews came out of WWII, especially those who personally survived the concentration camps, who could no longer believe in god. And I know that Zionism actually got started in the late 1800s as a secular Jewish movement. Perhaps this sort of history is why my own (orthodox) rabbi took it so very much in stride when I told him I couldn’t even try to believe anymore. He acted as though this were perfectly natural. He didn’t even try to argue it with me or offer any platitudes. Apparently, Judaism has learned, over centuries, to accept its atheists and keep them in the culture.

        If only Islam would do that, rather than murdering them, or Christianity, rather than evangelizing them until they fairly wished they were dead to make it stop.

        And if only Judaism were not grouped with Christianity and Islam, as though it were not only just like the other two but at fault for whatever the other two do. I am tuned into hearing these things, when their spouted. Perhaps others of you might listen for them, too, to help dispel them. They are, in effect, antisemitic propaganda, shifting blame from the majority onto its Jewish minority, and the majority often don’t even realize they’re doing it.

        1. So, pointing out the depravity of the old testament and the absurdities of the beliefs held and practices followed by orthodox Judaism is “antisemitic propaganda”?

          Uncanny how that resembles the line of thinking that leads to the diagnosis of “islamophobic propaganda” of pointing out the depravity of the Koran and the absurdities of the beliefs held and practices followed by fundamentalist Islam.

          Good for goose good for gander.

          1. No, not exactly. Antisemitism as a specific, concerted effort, began during Constantine’s reign. (Read or see the documentary “Constantine’s Sword” for details.)

            Where the Old Testament targeted specific populations, that was where it ended. There were no populations to be targeted afterward. Muslims still target, though, and so do Christians, though in a way that is too civilized in propagandized appearance for most Christians, themselves, to see.

            As for “depravity of the old testament”, as you called it, when was the last time you heard of Jews stoning anyone to death? How many Jewish women have you heard of, in biblical times or since, who were put through female genital mutilation?

            In contrast, how many Muslim or Christian holidays do you know of that respect trees? Judaism has a New Year for the Trees (Lag B’Omer). It even has laws preventing destruction of trees, including in wartime, and preventing cruelty to animals — and these didn’t stop after Jesus was born, at least not for the Jews.

            In a time when the world was flooded with innumerable gods, at least Judaism tried to quit and settled on the compromise of just one. Christianity added back two: Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Islam has effectively made Muhammed into a god, as well. Jews? Even Moses was only human, not a god, not even allowed by God to enter the Holy Land, according to the Old Testament, nor was he buried where he could be found, to prevent him from being elevated to god-like status.

            Considering how old Judaism is, how far it’s progressed toward secularism with cultural roots, and how that compares to modern day Christianity and Islam, I’d say you and I are never going to agree on this, because Christian propaganda over the past millenium, plus Muslim propaganda, now (i.e., BDS movement), has too strong a hold.

            1. Oh, just one more thing: There are probably more radicalized Muslims, out or still in the closet, than there are Jews on this earth. How can that be? Well, only 0.2% of the world population is Jewish. In 2010, Muslims made up 23.2% of the global population — that’s 23% over the Jewish 0.2% — and it is the fastest growing segment among all world religions. (www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/23/why-muslims-are-the-worlds-fastest-growing-religious-group/)

              You can try to equate Jewish extremists with Muslim and/or Christian extremists, if you like, but they simply are not equivalent.

  8. He was truly a hero, and a modest one at that. Thanks for sharing about him, as I hadn’t heard about him before. Just beautiful. It was heart-wrenching to read also about the last group of children who were to leave but didn’t make it, as that was the day that Germany invaded Poland.

  9. One of my wife’s German teachers in Belfast was part of the kinder transport. She passed away recently but for someone with no immediate family, drew a big crowd to her funeral as a result of the great influence for good she was on so many. Tireless charity work, a passion for educating the young and in a small but effective way, making the world better. From out of tragedy came great humanity. She and Mr Winton were real ‘mensch’.

  10. I’d say “Live long and Prosper” but it’s clear he already did.

    He’s a true hero. May he rest in peace.

Leave a Reply