The world lost an uncommon hero this week, not just by the nature of his noble deeds, but by the hero’s humility regarding recognition of his acts. A person who saves a life should be thought of as a hero. Nicholas Winton saved 669 lives…those of Jewish Czechoslovakian children whose fate would surely have been extermination in Nazi concentration camps.
In pre-war 1938, a friend encouraged 29-year-old British stockbroker Nicholas Winton to travel to Prague to witness the Czechoslovakian refugee detention camps full of Jewish families fleeing the encroaching Nazi occupation of their country.
In the face of great adversity and personal expense, Mr. Winton arranged for the release of children of these Jewish families. But that was only the first monumental step. On the other side, against great odds, he arranged asylum for these refugee children, primarily in the UK and Sweden….and essentially guaranteed them new lives.
And that was not all. Once friendly governments agreed to accept the children, their transport had to be paid and foster homes arranged for their eventual acceptance once arrived in the new countries. Nicholas Winton successfully carried out all of these amazing steps in order to deliver these children to safety and in effect, to start new lives. In total, 669 children, in eight separate groups were delivered to safety from deadly harm, through Winton’s efforts.
Miraculously humble about his great deeds, Mr. Winton said nothing about his lifesaving missions, until in 1988, nearly 50 years after his actions, his wife found documents cataloguing what transpired and the story emerged to the public. During a resulting interview, Winton expressed: “There are all kinds of things you don’t talk about, even with your family. Everything that happened before the war actually didn’t feel important in the light of the war itself.”
Remarkable that he could downplay his miraculous accomplishments.
Lee Cohen, head of the New York office of Off the Record Strategies and New York Director of The Anglosphere Society, spent years advising the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Western European affairs, and was founding Executive Director of the House United Kingdom Caucus.