The best heroes are the bold and broken. Bold enough to take action and broken enough to keep the ego in check.
Nicholas Winton was a bold and humble hero. He was bold because he saved 669 children from the Holocaust and he was humble because his story didn’t become known until 50 years later.
A year before World War II began, the infamous Munich Agreement paved the way for the Nazis to march unopposed into the Sudetenland, the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia. Prague, the Czech capital, was inundated with families trying to escape. Sensing the coming ordeal, many Czech Jews were anxious to get their children to safety.
In London, 29-year-old Winton was a successful stockbroker and deeply concerned about news reports of Nazi persecution so he took a two week vacation in Czechoslovakia to see if he could help save some kids.
He went out into the camps where the people who had been displaced were taking refuge. Conditions in the make-shift camps were brutal for the thousands abandoned there, especially for the children. Winton took action. He set up shop on a dining room table in a hotel in Prague with one goal: to get as many kids out ASAP. Desperate Jews came to him in increasing numbers and he worked 18-hour days to accommodate them.
With a list of hundreds of children, he returned to London and met with British authorities to convince them of the dire need. He slyly modified the stationary from an established refugee organization and added “Children’s Section” to the header.
The “Children’s Section” operated from a tiny office and was staffed by volunteers. His mother managed the office while Winton worked his day job and in the evenings he wrestled with the British bureaucracy.
At first, the task of placing the children was overwhelming. The British government didn’t agree to lend assistance until Winton guaranteed each child had a home to go to. The Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, refused to allow any of the children entry into the United States.
Through most of 1939, Winton arranged for seven trains to carry hundreds of children through Germany to Holland, where they took a ferry across the English Channel and then a train to London. An eighth train, carrying 250 more, was due to leave Prague on September 1st. But that’s the day WWII began and the train never left the station.
Most of those kids were killed at Auschwitz.
Nicholas Winton used a two week vacation to set up a rescue operation that came to be known as the “Kindertransport” and saved the lives of 669 children. For his humanitarian efforts, Winton was knighted in 2003 and later recognized as a national hero in the Czech Republic.
* Petition: Father in heaven, help us to be ‘bold and broken’ heroes for all children.