Nicholas Winton: the man who saved 669 children from the Holocaust

August 12, 2017 • 11:45 am

This morning Matthew Cobb sent me a tweet that reminded me of this story—a story I’d known about but never mentioned. It’s about Nicholas Winton—now Sir Nicholas Winton—a British stockbroker who, on a visit to Czechoslovakia in 1938, managed to launch a rescue operation that ultimately saved 669 children, most of them Jewish, from the Holocaust. Rather than recount the details, just watch the “60 Minutes” clip below, the way I first learned about him. It was filmed when Winton was 104.

In 1988, the BBC, in a surprise event, reunited Winton with many of the children he had saved. Winton was a guest at a television show recounting his exploits, and suddenly the host asked if anybody whom Winton had saved was in the studio. The BBC had brought 24 of those children (80 were living in Britain) to the show, unbeknownst to Winton, and all of them stood up. It’s a wonderful and tear-inducing moment, and you can see it at 11:35 in this 15-minute clip.

I recommend that you watch it, as it will bolster your faith that there really are wonderful people out there:


I found this a deeply moving clip, especially knowing that the parents gave up their kids realizing that they’d probably never see them again—and they didn’t. Note that America wouldn’t take any of the children. Sound familiar?

Wikipedia adds this list of notable people saved by Winton, and recounts how many of them have been traced:

Of the 669 children saved from the Holocaust through Winton’s efforts, more than 370 have never been traced. BBC News suggested in 2015 that they may not know the full story of how they survived the war.

Here’s a short interview of Winton by BBC’s HardTalk:

Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2003, when he was 94, for or “services to humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia”. He lived to the ripe old age of 106, dying peacefully in 2015.


28 thoughts on “Nicholas Winton: the man who saved 669 children from the Holocaust

  1. I remember the HardTalk interview – I saw it when it was first broadcast. I think you might have posted it before because I remember having an argument with someone about it (no idea who) at the time. Of course, it may just have got mentioned in a comment.

    Anyway, he was an amazing man. Very special indeed. He just quietly went about doing the right thing with no thought of accolades or anything.

  2. I saw the 60 minutes piece as well. It was an amazing story and the reunion was really something. A great moment in a very ugly time.

    And speaking of this reminds me of what is going on right now in Charlotteville, Va. Just watching some of it on CNN and it is very Ugly. The Alt-right, white supremacists and KKK you name it are battling with others and the police. Turning into a real mess.

  3. The man is an absolute and utter hero, but you have some of the details wrong. Lots of the videos copy each other and as a result repeat mistakes. He didn’t keep entirely quiet about it as is often stated. He just didn’t make a big fuss and tell everyone what eaxactly he had done. The son of one of the children he saved is a very very prominent British psychiatrist and he was on BBC Radio recently telling the story of what happened. His father was siting down next to Sir Nicholas at meting of a chiarity where they were trustees who spotted his accent and he asked where psychiatrists father came from. When he said Prague Sir Nicholas replied “Oh I was there before the war.”
    and then when asked what he was doing he replied “Oh I was organising bringing Jewish refugee children to Britain.”
    Not realising of course that the man he was speaking to was one of those very children.

    In the first they had only 3 of the restcued children. Vera Gissing,Hanush Shnabel and the other woman who is in that video with her pass.

    It was the second week when people got in touch with the BBC where a lot of the audience got up.

    The best collectiong of clips covering the enire story of the That’s Life episodes is just 4.5 minutes long and is here.

    1. Thanks for this. I did know that Winton didn’t keep absolutely 100% quiet about his deeds (the Wikipedia article notes that, too), but he certainly was modest about them! I’m not sure which details I got wrong; the errors are of omission due to my ignorance, which you’ve rectified. Thanks for the addendum, and for the clip.

  4. Apparently Sir Nicholas’s own Jewish heritage precludes him from being recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem. On days when I’m wallowing in cynicism and misanthropy, I like to stop by the website there to read a couple of the featured testimonials, get my tenuous faith in humanity back on life support.

  5. Sir Nicholas Winterton was a noted colourful Conservative politician. When I hear people spout about ‘the wicked Tories’ I use his example to contradict them.

      1. Winterton is a conservative. Winton stood as a Labour Councilor. Not a snowball’s chance in hell. He lived in the place that Theresa May represents in the UK parliament !

      1. Why does politics attract so many psychological aberrations? Aren’t there enough normal people willing to server? Look at the current crop, indeed. Look at the Republican party and it’s leader in the US and tell me there’s not something very, very wrong.

        1. Through the money involved, it attracts the “what can my country do for me” instead of Vice Versa,the whole system is corrupt.

          1. On the other hand, Trump (and Kennedy) had lots of dosh. Maybe it has more to do with a lust for power and influence. Maybe some wish for a kind of immortality that comes with fame. Whatever brings out the ALPHA in these people is not always helpful.

  6. With all due respect to the story above and i am not sure this story has been posted here.

    “A Polish social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Nazi death camps was yesterday honoured as a national hero by the Polish parliament.
    Irena Sendlerowa, 97, who has been nominated for this year’s Nobel peace prize, changed the identity of the children she rescued from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and 1943 and placed them with Polish families.”

    It is from theGuardian 15th March 2007. I believe she lost the Nobel to Al Gore that year. Google go eat yourself.
    And like Nicholas Winton modesty comes easy. What Irena Sendlerowa said of herself:

    “The term ‘hero’ irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.”

    Gotta to love the old school mentality.

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