Nicholas Winton’s Jewish ‘Children’ Offer Praise to ‘British Schindler’ After Passing
Jews who were among the 669 youths from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia who were saved by Sir Nicholas Winton on the eve of World War II offered praise for the famed humanitarian hours after news of his death broke on Wednesday.
“I just thought it was amazing that a single human being could save 669 children and nobody knew about it,” Ruth Halova, now 90, told the BBC. “Nicky, I am so proud to be one of your very many children.”
Winton organized for a foster family to take in Halova, a Prague native. He worked with relief organizations to set up the Czech Kindertransport, an initiative which rescued Jewish children destined for Nazi concentration camps from Czechoslovakia at the start of World War II. He organized eight trains from Prague and other forms of transportation from Vienna, the BBC said.
Winton was dubbed the “British Schindler” by the U.K. press in reference to German entrepreneur Oskar Schindler, who is remembered for saving more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
Halova described Winton as “an exceptional human being,” adding, “We loved him from the first moment – who wouldn’t love Nicky?”
“He took so many risks and it was such a brilliant piece of organizing,” said 84-year-old John Fieldsend, who was also saved by Winton when the war started.
Born in Germany, Fieldsend’s original name was Hans Heinrich Fiege. His family fled to the Czech Republic before the outbreak of World War II, when the Nazi persecution of the Jews began.
Winton’s efforts went unknown to the public for almost 50 years, the BBC reported. His heroism was revealed in 1998 when his wife Grete found a scrapbook in their attic holding numerous documents, including the names of the rescued children. That year he was reunited with some of the children he saved, now as adults, on the BBC program That’s Life.
“It was an amazing surprise, but no more so than to Mr Winton who had come to the studio, totally unprepared that he was going to be confronted by us,” said Prague native Grenfell-Baines, who was invited to the TV studio without being told why. Winton arranged for a family near Manchester to take her in at the start of the war.
Winton was born Nicholas George Wertheim in London on May 19, 1909. He was one of three children of Rudolf and Barbara Wertheim. His parents were of German-Jewish origin but converted to Christianity and changed the family name to Winton, according to The New York Times.
Winton’s death coincides with the same day 76 years ago when the train carrying the largest number of rescued children – 241 – departed from Prague.