Greetings to my readers!
Human beings as a collective, species or a civilisation have faced several threats of biblical proportions but more than often they are themselves the antagonists in the tale known as history. One such instance being the decade of the 1940s, dominated by the Second War of the Nations, prominently referred to as “World War 2”. In such perilous propositions, where human beings are the antagonists, it’s only fair that human beings be the saving grace. This month’s blog delivers an account of a miracle performed by an unsung hero, Sir Nicholas Winton.
Before revealing this tale, I must properly set the stage by providing the introduction to this saintly person. In the year 1938, Nicholas Winton was a 29 year old Englishman, a wealthy stockbroker unaffected by the great Economic Depression. He was a champion fencer, an avid traveller and from the looks of it surrounded by various materialistic aspects of the world. Nothing about him gave an impression that he was an altruist or a humanitarian. While planning his annual trip to Swiss Alps that year, he received a call from one of his associates about not being able to join the trip since his presence was urgently required to aid Czechs, whose nation was invaded by Nazi’s. Winton had a fervid urge to accompany his associate and see the state of these forlorn folk, who were forced to become refugees in their own motherland. Nicholas was driven to tears when he saw the abysmal state of the Czech Refugee camps. In the wintery month of December, these pitiful people had only one stove for the entire camp. The shortage of nourishment and warmth was affecting their sustenance. An emotional Winton was convinced that it was his calling to help them in some way. Seeing the helpless state of these refugees, he set up his base of operations in Prague as an associate to British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. The news of the resolution made by this Committee spread like wildfire and a horde of people came forward to avail help from them. Winton realized that it was beyond the realm of possibility for him to help all these individuals, but in his heart he knew that at least he could secure a safe future for the children. Just like the phenomenal pencil pusher Nicholas Winton was, he started writing letters for help here, there and everywhere. He wrote to the Queen, President of USA (FDR) and to various other individuals or institutions who could be ray of hope in these dire circumstances. From most of the places, he received the same jargon laden reply about existing laws that were inadequate or impuissant to accommodate the diaspora of such massive extent and they would reconsider shelling something soon for these hapless foreigners. Dejected yet committed, Winton proceeded to make the lists of children that needed to be rescued. While Winton was devoted to his rescue operation, on the other end of canvas, the European allies of Czechoslovakia were unable to uphold the democratic integrity and had finally left Czechoslovakia to be annexed by Germanic Aryans. This political fiasco meant that not only the countryside of Sudeten borderlands was under the threat of annexation but the main cities as well. While working tirelessly for the fruition of the mission, Nicholas Winton caught the eyes of Kristen, who introduced herself as the Prague representative of Swedish Red Cross Society. Some of his associates suspected her to be a Nazi Spy who was their to lay a honeytrap, regardless of these assumptions Winton started seeing her. One fine day, she told Nicholas that she could take a few refugee juveniles to Sweden. Winton was conflicted but somehow decided to follow through with this proposal. His gamble paid off and she successfully rehabilitated 25 children in Sweden. Post this episode, Winton realised that the timeframe they had was consistently shrinking. Back in London, his humanitarian efforts were not welcomed by his boss who threatened to fire him if he did not return to his job immediately. Nicholas defied his boss’s order and stayed in Prague. As the process of registering children proceeded, one could see never ending queues of parents, depressed yet relieved trying to comfort each other in the face of uncertainty. A glimmer of positivity surfaced in the form of permission from British home office to accept these refugee kids. Except that all other institutions had closed their eyes, ears, gates and hearts to the pleas of these miserable refugees. While the war was on horizon, Winton had changed his base of operation, now in his residence in London, he started getting permissions for getting these children out , getting them in the British Borders, finding suitable families to adopt them and raising money for all this to happen. Winton had to fulfill certain stringent conditions before he was allowed to rescue these individuals. FIrst of all, he must allocate each child to a family, who is willing to keep the child until the war is over and in the case that the child’s biological parents expire, to adopt them. Each child must have a guarantor of 50 pounds upon entry. Stripping inflation rate from the currency, 50 pounds was a huge deal back then. Winton was ready to comply with all the conditions and so the photographs and details of refugee children started flowing in and were printed in local press, national newspapers, picture posts etc. Nicholas also maintained cards withs information of 6-8 children, so that when families came he could showcase the rescued children in fashion akin to catalogue. He was frustrated at seeing the commercial and heartless execution of his operation but time was of the essence. Nicholas was willing to cut corners in all aspects and still maintain the verity of his operation. He would send in associates to vet the families who were adopting the children, which meant travelling across length and breadth of the country. Back in Prague, it was a peculiar atmosphere, parents were devastated at the thought of sending their adolescents to a faraway land but realized that they were helpless. They were still unable to make peace with the fact that if they would not part with the pieces of their heart, they might endanger them. In London, Nicholas had resorted to using fake passports and travel documents to trick German Border control. Finally the day of execution came. At the railway station, the atmosphere was emotionally charged and the eyes of parents and children were equally glistened with liquid feelings. Lamenting their circumstances, parents with heavy hearts let their kids board trains and live in a far away land, safe from overarching death and misery. At the very last moment, Nazi authorities levied heavy taxes on the transport, they had effectively demanded a ransom. At this point, this operation was an egg that couldn’t be unscrambled. Nicholas paid this from his own pocket. Reaching at the border the train full of adolescents and toddlers was frisked by another Nazi contingent. Finally passing the area of terror, they reached the edge of Czechoslovakia and boarded a boat to finally catch another train to Liverpool. At Liverpool they were introduced to their new families. The following part of this rescue mission was strictly business like,Nicholas had to collect the child, deliver it to the family who demanded them and collect a signature, a proof of delivery. As the months passed and the end was nigh, Winton pressed harder for more permits, more opportunities. In the coming months, Nicholas was able to arrange 8 more trains for rescuing children. In september 1939, war broke out and Nicholas Winton had to join the Royal Air Force. Apart from these fortunate few, any individual in Prague with Jewish blood and under 50 years of age was sent to concentration camps to perform hard labour and die eventually. Nicholas did not ask for any laurels even after the war was over. Nobody recognised his service to humanity for over 50 years. 5 decades later, his wife found a scrapbook containing the names of the children rescued and asked him about the relic she had discovered in the attic. Once she was told the entire story, she took it upon herself to make people aware of the heroic deed her husband had performed. BBC aided her by arranging an appreciative affair where people rescued by winton were invited and he was called and invited under false pretenses. When he reached the affair and it was announced that the celebration was to commemorate the humanitarian endeavour performed by Nicholas and people surrounding him where all the children he rescued, now adults. These fortunate few had tears in their eyes upon seeing the unsung saint who saved them, while Nicholas wept at the thought of receiving gratitude from so many people. Usually , I’m hesitant to reveal the sources of the research I conduct for articles but I’d make an exception here and implore you to please give a watch to Children saved from Nazis : Story of Sir Nicholas Winton, a documentary by BBC. Since my words fall short in describing the scene properly.