PRAGUE: The story of Sir Nicholas Winton is one of the most profound tales of humanitarianism that you’ve probably never heard.
REAL-LIFE HERO: Winton coordinated eight train evacuations of 669 children from Czechoslovakia to Britain, saving them from almost certain death
After saving 669 children in 1938, most of them Jewish, from likely death at Nazi concentration camps at the onset of World War II, last Monday — on Winton's 105th birthday — it was announced that the heroic Englishman will be awarded the Order of the White Lion, the highest order in the Czech Republic. In the official announcement, Czech President Milos Zeman noted Winton’s example of humanity, selflessness, personal bravery and modesty as reasons for the prestigious honour. The award will be given to Winton this October.
DOWN MEMORY LANE: In 1939, Winton organised 8 trains that carried the children to the safety of England from war torn Czechoslovakia. In 2009, a steam train carrying many of the evacuees to re-enact their original journey. Pics/Getty Images
In December 1938, Winton gave up a vacation as a London-based stockbroker to travel to the politically turbulent Prague, according to the Guardian. He was curious to see firsthand what was happening to refugees in what was then Czechoslovakia. Nazis had recently invaded the country, and Winton sensed the grave danger the refugees were facing.
He wasn’t an elected official, a high-ranking member of the British military or even someone with a significant background in charitable work. But during his three weeks in Prague, Winton made one of the most impactful, single-handed efforts to save children from mass genocide.
He created advertisements for foster homes. He manipulated paperwork to sidestep government red tape that would have gotten in his way. He even persuaded Germans to go along with his plan. Continuing his efforts from his home in London for the next nine months, Winton coordinated eight train evacuations of 669 children from Czechoslovakia to Britain, saving them from almost certain death.
For decades, Winton’s heroic efforts largely went unnoticed — until 1988, when a BBC programme surprised him by planning an emotional reunion with several of the survivors he saved.