British 'Schindler' gets knighthood
LONDON, England -- A British stockbroker known as the "British Schindler" after he saved hundreds of children from Nazi death camps is to be honoured with a knighthood.
Nicholas Winton, who is now 93, has been named in the Queen Elizabeth II's New Year's Honours list.
Winton, a former London Stock Exchange clerk, kept his extraordinary role a secret for nearly 50 years.
It was only when his wife, Grete, found a scrapbook that it emerged how he smuggled 669 Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia and found them safe homes in the UK at the outbreak of World War II.
In late 1938, during a visit to Prague at the invitation of a friend at the British embassy, he was asked to lend a hand in newly-erected refugee camps.
Alarmed that not enough was being done to help children, he set up office at a dining room table in his Wenceslas Square hotel and soon parents were flocking to see him, desperate to get their children out of the country before it was too late.
Years later, he said it had seemed "hopeless" at the time, recalling: "Each group felt that they were the most urgent."
Back in London, he persuaded the Home Office to issue visas, but he had to find foster families for each child, as well as raising funds for transportation.
In nine months of campaigning he managed to arrange for 669 children to escape on eight trains, from Prague to London.
A ninth train, crammed with more children than any of the others, was to leave on September 3, 1939, the day Britain entered the war -- but tragically it never left the station.
He recalled recently: "None of the 250 children on board was seen again.
"We had 250 families waiting at (London's) 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."
He has always insisted he did nothing special, saying once: "I just saw what was going on and did what I could to help.
"I could see in England what the political situation was and I thought it was much more serious that the politicians did."
He said the Germans were "only too willing to get rid of" the children because they never thought they would be at war with Britain.
"From the German point of view there was really very little difficulty.
"The only problem was to get permits for the children to enter England and to fulfil the conditions which were laid down by the Home Office, which was that I could only bring a child if I had a family that would look after them.
"I merely said that, if it was possible, I would do it. And in fact, it wasn't really difficult. It was a lot of hard work, but it wasn't difficult."
Vera Gissing, one of the children he saved said recently: "I owe him my life and those of my children and grandchildren.
"He rescued the greater part of the Jewish children of my generation in Czechoslovakia. Very few of us met our parents again -- they perished in concentration camps.
"Had we not been spirited away, we would have been murdered alongside them."
A documentary film, "Nicholas J. Winton -- Power of Good," was made in Slovakia and released earlier this year.
He has been compared to Oskar Schindler, whose similar story inspired the movie "Schindler's List."
Schindler saved more than 1,000 Jews from Nazi concentration camps by employing them at his factory in Poland.
British government minister Peter Hain said in October: "Nicholas Winton has touched the lives of many.
"All of the children he saved survived the war but few of their parents did. The legacy of his act extends across the globe.
"There are over 5,000 descendants of the Winton children around the world, including in the UK, Canada, Czech Republic and the United States."