Winton, then a 29-year-old London stockbroker, visited
Prague, Czechoslovakia, in late 1938 at the invitation of a friend at
the British Embassy. When he arrived, the British team working in newly
erected refugee camps asked him to lend a hand.
Nicholas Winton spent only a couple of months in Prague but was alarmed by the influx of
refugees, endangered by the imminent Nazi invasion. Heartbroken by a
visit to a refugee camp he immediately
recognized the advancing danger and decided to make every
effort to get the children outside the reach of Nazi power.
commission was dealing with the elderly and vulnerable and people in the
camps kept telling me that nobody was doing anything for the children,'
Nicholas Winton later recalled.
set up office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square in
Prague. Word got out of the Englishman of Wenceslas Square and
parents flocked to the hotel to try to persuade him to put their
children on the list, desperate to get them out before the Nazis
invaded. 'It seemed hopeless,' he said years later, 'each
group felt that they were the most urgent.' But Winton managed
to set up the organization for the Czech Kindertransport in Prague in
early 1939 before he went back to London to handle all the necessary
matters from Britain.
in London, Winton immediately began organizing transports to get the
children out of the country, cooperating with the British Committee for
Refugees from Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak travel agency Cedok.
Working day and night he persuaded the Home Office to let the children
in. For each child, he had to find a foster parent and a 50 pound
guarantee, in those days a small fortune. He also had to raise money to
help pay for the transports when contributions by the children's parents
couldn't cover the costs.
on the train
nine months of campaigning as the war crept closer, Nicholas Winton
managed to arrange for 669 children to get out on eight trains, Prague
to London (a small group of 15 were flown out via Sweden). The ninth
train - the biggest transport - was to leave Prague on 3 September,
1939, the day Britain entered the war - but the train never left the
station. 'Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared,' Winton
later recalled. 'None of the 250 children on board was seen again. We
had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain. If the
train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single
one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling.'
of the children set to flee that day survived the following years.
Later, more than 15,000 Czech children were also killed.
A Jewish refugee child
- member of the first Kindertransport
The documentary "The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton," recalls
the parents' anguish about sending their children away - aware of the
possibility they would never see them again. Survivors share their
memories - remembering how their parents' faces looked as they said
goodbye and how the children's reactions ranged from sadness and fear to
the sense of embarking on a new adventure.