There are certain people in this world who deserve to be celebrated. From scholars who have cracked complicated theories, to wealthy people who have donated large portions of their earnings to help others. Then there are the ordinary people who have done extraordinary things – be it campaigning for human rights or fighting for their country.
If I were to ask you to think of one of these people, it’s likely that a famous name would pop into your mind. Stephen Hawking for his work on general relativity, maybe? Or perhaps Mary Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first person and only woman to win it twice? How about Martin Luther King Jr.? Even Winston Churchill? Maybe Sir Nicholas Winton? Wait, who?
There are few people that know of Sir Nicholas Winton and his incredible story. Born in England in 1909, he was thrust into tumultuous times as World War One interrupted his childhood. Born to German Jews who’d fled Germany for London, Winton was thankfully shielded from the horrors that his race would eventually be subjected to. However, that would all change when World War Two began.
Having successfully applied to be a conscientious objector, Winton was never destined to become a part of the war effort. However, that changed in 1938 when he visited Prague to join a friend who’d asked him to assist with Jewish welfare work. Abandoning a planned ski holiday in Switzerland, Winton left for Prague – a decision that would change the course of his entire life.
During the rest of the war, he helped to evacuate 669 children from Czechoslovakia to Britain where he found them all new homes and families, whilst their own perished in concentration camps across their home country. Shortly after this experience, he abandoned his conscientious objector status and joined the Royal Air Force.
When he returned home, Winton kept quiet about his remarkable work during the war. However, he kept a book in his attic with all the names of the children he’d saved as well as details of their new homes. This book was ultimately discovered by his wife who shared it with a journalist.
Shortly afterward, in 1988, Winton appeared on an episode of the British television show That’s Life, but what he didn’t know was that the audience consisted of the children he’d saved.
Watch the emotional moment he discovered he was surrounded by the children below. If you don’t shed a tear, are you even human?
After the war, Winton married a Danish secretary he met whilst working in Paris for the International Refugee Organization. Together they had three children: Nick, Barbara, and Robin, who tragically died the day before his sixth birthday after contracting meningitis – a devastating moment that would deeply affect Winton for the rest of his life.
Despite living a chaotic life, Winton went on to live until he was 106 years old. On his 100th birthday, he was flown in a microlight by Judy Leden, a champion pilot and the daughter of one of the 669 children that Winton saved. His death, on July 1, 2015, came 76 years to the day after 241 of the children he saved left Prague on the train.
It’s hard to argue that Winton led a remarkable life, and, as a result of his brave actions, so have the 669 children he saved and their offspring. Without him, who knows what may have happened. One thing’s for sure – World War Two would have probably claimed even more lives.