Sir Nicholas Winton, who became known as “Britain’s Schindler” for saving the lives of Jewish children during the Holocaust, has died aged 106.
Sir Nicholas organised eight trains to carry a total of 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to London in 1939, fearing they would otherwise be sent to concentration camps.
He risked his life to save some of the most vulnerableGordon Brown
He also helped find foster families for the children once they arrived in England – but after the Second World War he did not speak of his actions for half a century, even to wife.
Sir Nicholas, from a German-Jewish family, eventually received a knighthood in 2003 after his story had come to light, and was presented with a Hero of the Holocaust medal at Downing Street in 2010 by then prime minister Gordon Brown.
Last year, he was awarded the Order of The White Lion by Czech president Milos Zeman.
Home Secretary Theresa May, MP for Maidenhead, where Sir Nicholas was a resident, said yesterday he was a “hero of the 20th century”.
She said: “Against the odds, he almost single-handedly rescued hundreds of children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazis – an enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times.
“Because of his modesty, this astonishing contribution only came to light many years later. So many people owe their lives to Nicholas and it was fitting that, in his later years, he finally received the recognition he deserved. Maidenhead is rightly proud of all that he did, and we must ensure that his legacy lives on by continuing to tackle antisemitism and discrimination wherever it arises.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton’s humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust.”
Mr Brown called Sir Nicholas “a real hero of our times” and added: “Anyone who had the privilege of meeting him immediately felt admiration, respect and were in awe of his courage.
“That courage led him to risk his life to save the lives of some of the most vulnerable people. His inspiration will live on.”
On his 105th birthday, the founder of the Czech Kindertransport operation was given a cake and card at his home in Maidenhead by newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, who is a member of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, and was also visited by Vera Schaufeld, one of the children he saved.
Ms Kaplinksy said: “Our country should be so proud of Sir Nicholas Winton. In the darkest moments of our history he showed how the best of humanity can still shine through.
“When I met him on his birthday last year I was struck by his incredible modesty. For years he didn’t even talk about the extraordinary things he had done. It is humbling to think about the courage he showed in saving so many lives.”