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The Difference one can make

The Story of Nicholas Winton

  • e truest hero does not think of himself as one, never advertises himself as

such and does not perform the acts that make him a hero for either fame or fortune. He does not wait for government to act if he senses an opportunity to fix a problem himself. On July 27, 2006 in the quiet countryside of Maidenhead, England, we spent several hours with a true hero: Sir Nicholas Winton. His friends call him “Nicky.”

n the fall of 1938, many Europeans were lulled into complacency by British Prime Minister Nev- ille Chamberlain, who thought he had pacified Adolf Hitler by handing him a large chunk of Czecho- slovakia at Munich in late September. Winston Churchill, who would succeed Chamberlain in 1940, was among the wise and prescient who believed oth- erwise. So was Nicholas Winton, then a 29-year-old London stockbroker. I

Having made many business trips to Germany in previous years, Winton was well aware of Jews being arrested, harassed and beaten. e infamous Kristallnacht of November 9, 1938 — in which Nazi thugs destroyed Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses while murdering scores of Jews across Germany — laid to rest any doubts about Hitler’s deadly intentions. His increasingly aggres- sive anti-Semitism and Germany’s occupation of the Sudetenland in October 1938 spurred a tide of predominately Jewish refugees. ousands fled to as-yet unoccupied Czechoslovakia, especially to Prague. Some had relatives and friends to move in with, but many settled into makeshift refugee camps

in appalling conditions in the midst of winter.

Winton had planned a year-end ski trip to Swit- zerland with a friend, but was later convinced by him at the last moment to come to Prague instead because he had “something urgent to show him” — namely, the refugee problem. Near Prague, Winton visited the freezing camps. What he saw aroused deep feelings of compassion within him: orphans and children whose parents had already been ar- rested, and families desperate to somehow get at least their children out of harm’s way. Jewish par- ents who were lifetime residents and citizens in the country were also anxious to send their children to safety, hoping in vain that the storm would blow over. ey, like Winton, sensed that the Nazis wouldn’t rest until they took the rest of the country, and perhaps all of Europe as well. e thought of what could happen to them if the Nazis devoured the rest of Czechoslovakia was enough to inspire this good man into action.

It would have been easy to assume there was nothing a lone foreigner could do to assist so many trapped families. Winton could have ignored the

Mackinac Center for Public Policy • 3

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