British "Schindler" to meet children he saved

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British war hero Nicholas Winton, who helped evacuate hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia before World War Two, will meet on Friday some of the people he saved from Hitler’s death camps.

Sir Nicholas Winton of Britain, 98, sits in a room at the Czech Defence Ministry headquarters in Prague October 9, 2007, after he was awarded The Cross of Merit, the Czech military's highest award. REUTERS/Petr Josek

Winton, who turned 100 in May this year, was working as a stockbroker in London in 1938 when he visited a friend in Prague and realized the danger of the imminent Nazi invasion.

After recruiting a team to set up trains from Prague, Winton returned to Britain and organized host families to look after as many children as possible in an operation called Czech Kindertransport.

He managed to bring 669 mostly Jewish children on eight trains to Britain through Germany in 1939 but the ninth train with 250 children never left Prague because the war broke out. None of the 250 children on board was ever seen again.

Winton’s wartime exploits, however, remained a secret for years until his wife Greta found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988. He had not even told her of his role which has now led to him being dubbed the “English Schindler.”

“You can’t come up to somebody and say: ‘by the way do you want to know what I did in ‘39?’ People don’t talk about what they did in the war,” Winton told Reuters Television when asked about his silence on his war efforts.

This week Winton will meet some of the now-elderly “Winton children” in London when they arrive by steam train at Liverpool Street station after recreating the journey they took 70 years ago.

The “Winton train,” carrying about 22 of the people he saved and 150 others, left Prague on Tuesday after the unveiling of a statue of Winton at the station.

Many of those on board said they owed their lives to Winton.

“I didn’t know of Nicholas Winton till many years later. I am very grateful to him because I am alive today,” said Tom Growman from Denver, Colorado.

Another, Hana Franklova, added: “He was our savior. It took great heroism to deal with all of this, and deal with the Germans.”

Over the years, Winton’s work has been recognized with various awards and with a small planet discovered by Czech astronomers named in his honor.

Reporting by Helen Long from Reuters Television, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Steve Addison