British Banker Nicholas Winton Saved the Lives of Hundreds of Children During WWII
The Holocaust was an unspeakable atrocity responsible for the death and degradation of millions. Even more might have perished if it wasn’t for the bravery of heroes like Sir Nicholas Winton, who led an undertaking to lead hundreds of children safely out of danger from Nazi Germany to safety.
Winton (nee Wertheim) was born in 1909 in Britain to German-Jewish parents who had emigrated just two years before. The family anglicized their name and converted to Christianity in an attempt to assimilate in their new home. His father Rudolph was a bank manager and Nicholas grew up to join the finance world as well.
Young Winton was educated and did his early professional work in France and Germany before returning home and becoming a broker on the London Stock Exchange. An excellent athlete as a young man, he was so proficient in fencing that he had plans to compete in the 1944 Olympics that were ultimately canceled due to World War II. He was also a socialist, who developed an early opposition to the Nazi party in Germany, which later fueled his philanthropy during the war.
In December 1938, Winton had plans to travel to Switzerland for a skiing vacation. However, his holiday was postponed when friends convinced him to go to Prague and meet with Martin Blake, an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, within a country where Germany had just begun an invasion. He was immediately drawn to the cause and went to work organizing how to assist children from Jewish families escape from the clutches of the Nazis.
Winton initially spent a month in Prague involved in the rescue work with a number of like-minded people. That November, following Kristallnacht (the night of Broken Glass) in Germany, Britain passed a measure that allowed refugees younger than 17 to enter their country as long as they had a place to stay and a bond of 50 pounds was deposited with the government to go towards their eventual return to their home country.
Key in Winton’s efforts was getting permission for refugees to cross into the Netherlands. Once in place, that allowed him to…