Th e S to r y o f N i c h o l a s Wi n to n a n d Th e I m p o r t a n ce o f C h a ra c te r
situation and resumed his vacation in Switzerland, stepping back into the comfortable life he left be- hind. Surely, most other people in his shoes would have walked away. Despite the talk of “peace in our time,” Winton knew the clock was ticking. If any help could be mustered, it needed to come quickly.
e next steps he took ultimately saved 669 children
from death in Nazi concentration camps.
Getting all the children who sought safety to a country that would accept them seemed an impos- sible challenge. Back in London, he wrote to gov- ernments around the world, pleading for an open door, only to be rejected by every one (including the United States) but two: Sweden and Great Britain. He assembled a small group of volunteers to assist with the effort. Even his mother pitched in.
e London team’s counterpart in Prague was a
Brit named Trevor Chadwick. He gathered informa- tion from parents who wanted their children out, then forwarded the details to Winton, who used ev- ery possible channel in his search for foster homes.
ere were 5,000 children on his lists. At no charge,
British newspapers published Winton’s advertise- ments to stir interest and highlight the urgent need for foster parents. When enough homes could be found for a group of children, Winton submitted the necessary paperwork to the Home Office. He assisted Chadwick in organizing the rail and ship transportation needed to get them to Britain.
Winton also took the lead in raising the funds to pay for the operation. e expenses included the 50
Mackinac Center for Public Policy • 4
British pounds the Home Office required for each child (the equivalent of $3,500 per child in today’s dollars) to cover any future costs of repatriation. Hopes that the danger would pass and the children could be returned evaporated as war clouds gathered in the spring and summer of 1939.
Picture in your mind the unimaginable: the rail- way station in Prague when anguished parents and relatives loaded the children onto the trains and said what would be for most, their final goodbyes. Boys and girls, many younger than five, peered out the windows of the steaming trains wondering about their uncertain future. No one knew if they would ever be reunited with their families again.
e first 20 of “Winton’s children” left Prague
on March 14, 1939. Hitler’s troops overran all of Czechoslovakia the very next day, but the volunteers kept working, sometimes forging documents to slip the children past the Germans. By the time World War II broke out on September 1, the rescue effort had transported 669 children out of the country in eight separate groups by rail. A ninth batch of 250 more children would have been the largest of all, but war prompted the Nazis to stop all departures. Sadly, none of those children lived to see the Allied victory less than six years later. Pitifully few of the parents did either.
Vera Gissing, one of the children Winton saved, and now in her late 70s, puts the rescue mission in perspective: “Of the 15,000 Czech Jewish chil- dren taken to the camps, only a handful survived.