By Sarah Breger
In Prague yesterday, a train set off on a four-day journey to London to honor the work of a man referred to as “Britain’s Schindler.” Nicolas Winton, a British stockbroker, organized eight trains to carry 669 Czechoslovakian children to the safety of England. This year’s “Winton Train” carried 170 passengers—including over 20 of those that he saved—and consisted of an original locomotive and carriage form the 1930s. The train commemorated the 70th anniversary of what would have been the biggest trainload of children on Sept 1, 1939—the day that Hitler invaded Poland and all borders controlled by Germany were closed. All 250 children meant to board that train died, and Winton has often said the image of those children waiting for a never-coming train haunted him.
Winton, who turned 100 this May, did not tell anyone about his heroic deeds. It was not until 1988 that his wife, Grete, found a scrapbook in the attic with all the children’s photos, a list of their names and a few letters from the children’s parents. Winton’s work paralleled but was independent from Operation Kindertransport, the famous rescue operation that took 10,000 children from Central and Eastern Europe to England. In 2002, Winton received knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. As his parents were born as Jews and later converted to Christianity, Winton was never designated as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Israel. He was the subject of two films, including the award-winning documentary Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good. Last year, NPR aired Kim Masters’ essay, Finding A Hero Amid Fading Memories, an account of her mother and sisters, who are “Winton’s children.”