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Sunday, July 05, 2015

His Compelling Conscience

"There were 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."
"At the time, everybody said, 'Isn't it wonderful what you've done for the Jews? You saved all these Jewish people'. When it was first said to me, it came almost as a revelation because I didn't do it particularly for that reason. I was there to save children."
"Maybe a lot more could have been done, but much more time would have been needed, much more help would have been needed from other countries, much more money would have been needed, much more organization."
"I wouldn't claim that it was 100 percent successful, but I would claim that everybody who came over was alive at the end of the war."
Sir Nicholas Winton, British Holocaust rescuer, dead at 106
Kirsty Wigglesworth/ Associated Press
Kirsty Wigglesworth/ Associated Press   Nicholas Winton, centre, in 2009 at a 70th anniversary celebration of the Winton Train rescue of children 70 from Prague to Liverpool Street station in London.
"In a world plagued by evil and indifference, Winton dedicated himself to saving the innocent and the defenceless. His exceptional moral leadership serves as an example to all humanity."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

"Winton knew how to correctly read the harsh reality and chose to leave his comfortable life and follow the voice of his conscience."
Avner Shalev, chairman, Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Jerusalem
He was in Prague, Czechoslovakia, a young British stockbroker, when the Nazis marched into the country to begin their program of subjugation of the populace on the one hand, and selection of Jews to isolate and transport them to death camps, on the other. It was a time of desperation when Jewish parents thought feverishly of any possibility of escape for themselves and their families, and settled finally for saving their children's lives.

And, on his own initiative, with no assistance from any organized humanitarian, caring source, Nicholas Winton responded to his conscience and undertook an organized protocol whereby he managed to bring 650 of the condemned Jewish children to safety far from the land of their birth and its lethal new atmosphere for Jewish existence.

The man's vigorous efforts to advocate on behalf of vulnerable children whose Jewish identity marked them as victims of fascist death threats identified him as a rare and compassionate human being. And homage was paid to the historical episode of his rallying efforts on behalf of those children whose families and they as well were marked for death through the machinery of Nazi German efficiency.

Matt Dunham/ Associated Press
Matt Dunham/ Associated Press    People look at flowers laid in memory of Britain's Sir Nicholas Winton on German-born Jewish sculptor Frank Meisler's "Kindertransport" (German for children transport) memorial statue outside Liverpool Street Station in London, Thursday, July 2, 2015.

On his return to Britain he ascertained that there was no agency concerned about rescuing children from their fate. He managed to convince the British government that it should permit entry to some of the Jewish children of Czechoslovakia to enter the country and the government agreed, with the proviso that he find a foster home for each child. And they also sought fit to levy a guarantee payment of fifty pounds per child.

The young man set about compiling a list of six thousand children deemed suitable for the program and published their photographs, hoping to appeal to British families to take them. He arranged a schedule of trains travelling from Prague to the Netherlands, and of ferries to convey the chosen children across the North Sea to Britain. In the event, eight trains and one plane carried 669 children to Britain before war's outbreak.

These children from Prague were among the ten thousand mostly Jewish children who had managed through the auspices of kindly agencies to arrive in Britain on Kindertransports [children's transports]. While the children survived the war, they lost what was most dear to them, their families whose lives were extinguished during the Holocaust years.

While British children were sent out of their cities of residence to live for safety in the countryside while London was being bombed during the dark days of the war, and even sent abroad to live to ensure their safety, these Jewish children were sheltered wherever haven could be found for them. That haven was not always ideal, for not all the Jewish children were treated with kindness; some foster parents viewed them as domestic servants.

Mr. Winton was knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth and recognized in the Czech Republic for his humanitarian efforts. At Prague's central station a statue of Nicholas Winton was erected. At London's Liverpool Street Station stands a statue commemorating the Kindertransport children. Candles and flowers were set around Sir Nicholas Winton's statue in Prague on Thursday, the day following his death.

Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images
Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images   Cards and flowers in memory of Nicholas Winton are left on the Kindertransport memorial monument at Liverpool street station in London on July 2, 2015.

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