An Englishman who helped hundreds of Jewish children from Czechoslovakia escape certain death in Nazi concentration camps is visiting Prague 60 years after his heroic efforts.
Nicolas Winton, then a 30-year-old clerk at the London stock exchange, first visited Czechoslovakia in late 1938 at the invitation of a friend working at the British Embassy.
He spent little time in Prague, but was alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland, which was recently annexed by Germany.
Back in London, Winton immediately began organizing transports to get the children out of the country, cooperating with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak travel agency Cedok.
Winton correctly feared that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis.
He managed to save 664 children - most of them Jewish - before World War II started in 1939. The youngsters were sent to foster parents in England, and none saw their parents again.
“When I got back to England, the most important thing to do was to find out if the government would help,” Winton said Monday during a debate organized by Prague’s Jewish community.
He only had to visit the Home Office, Britain’s Interior Ministry, once to convince the government. They allowed him to bring in as many children as he wanted, provided he guarantee each one a foster family and enough money to pay for repatriation after the war.
Vera Gissing was one of those children, arriving in England shortly before her 11th birthday. “Until 1988, I had no idea who was the mastermind behind all that,” she said.
Not even Winton’s wife knew what he had done until 1988, when the Wintons were cleaning up their loft and found lists of the children and letters from their parents.