A memorial service has been held for Sir Nicholas Winton, the London stockbroker who rescued 669 children from the Holocaust, as the Nazi's rampaged through Europe on the eve of World War Two. The former stockbroker – dubbed the British Oskar Schindler – was honoured by 28 of those he saved when they were children, along with Czech, Slovak and UK government representatives at London's Guildhall on Thursday (19 May).
Sir Winton organised their escape to UK though what became known as "Kindertransport", which gave safe passage to 669 mostly Jewish children, who came to Britain by train from Czechoslovakia in 1939. The children would never see their parents again, but were able to avoid the atrocities committed during WWII thanks to his humanitarian project.
London-born Sir Nicholas had organised foster families in Britain, through placing adverts in newspapers, to house the refugee children. He also travelled to Prague to complete the plan using eight trains to travel across four countries.
He continued community work into his later years in Maidenhead, Berkshire but died on 1 July last year, aged 106. It is estimated that 7,000 people are alive today because of his good deeds and 130 family members travelled from across the globe to be at the memorial service.
The Jewish man was awarded the highest honour of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion, by Czech President Miloš Zeman on 28 October, 2014. After the war, Sir Nicholas worked for the International Refugee Organisation and then, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris. He died aged 106 on 1 July, 2015.
Sir Nicholas kept his story a secret for years until his wife, Grete Winton, found his scrapbook in the loft of his home and contacted the BBC show That's Life in 1988. The Corporation reunited some of the people he saved for the show – that was fronted by Esther Rantzen – who also spoke at the service.
According to the BBC, Rantzen said: "For the only time in my professional life I had to stop, get off my chair, get to behind the scenery, wipe my eyes, come back again and continue with the programme, because the impact of that moment, when people for the first time had the chance to meet their hero."
Many of those saved from the horrors of war simply knew him as "Nicky", considering themselves part of his extended family. One of those – a lady called Ruth, who was 13 when she travelled to London – said: "My memory of looking out of the window and seeing all of the faces of our relatives, tear-stained and in great worry, will stay with me forever. He was the most human exemplar of humanity we shall ever find."
Sir Nicholas and his team managed to persuade British custom officials to allow all the unaccompanied children in despite incomplete documentation. At the memorial was Lord Dubs who said: "I think what they should see is the story the triumph of the human spirit where one individual said he is going to do something and save lives from the Holocaust and he did it."