Imagine you plan a two week skiing trip in Switzerland for your holiday vacation. Then, suddenly you get a call from a friend asking you to cancel your trip, put away your skiis, and fly to Prague where you will find an interesting assignment once you get there. What would you do? Would you take it? This is what happened to 29 year old Englishman Nicholas Winton back in 1938. Little did he know he would be deeply involved in an assignment that would, only a year later, save 669 children’s lives.
After the Munich Agreement of 1938 in which Germany took over most of Czechoslovakia, Winton was convinced war would eventually break out and the rest of the country would soon be claimed by Germans. He came up with a rescue plan to save children of Czechoslovakia. Parents lined up at Winton’s office, the dining room of his hotel room, to drop off their children as the only hope for their safety. Winton reached out to other countries who would be willing to take in the refugees and find foster families for them.
Winton went back to London to work on a plan to transport the children out of Prague. He spent his days there working as a stockbroker and devoted his evenings to the rescue efforts of “The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section”. Getting the children out was not an easy endeavor. He needed to fund them, find foster families and even forge Home Office entry permits just to get them out. Between March and August of 1939, a total of 669 children had been transported by plane and train across borders to new families leaving behind parents many of the kids would never see again.
Almost fifty years went by without Nicholas Winton’s efforts being recognized, simply because he never spoke about it. It wasn’t until his wife discovered a scrapbook of the children’s photos, list of names and other documents in their attic. She reported the story which since has been recognized around the world. Winton received an array of acknowledgements from being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II to his story being portrayed in three films, All My Loved Ones, Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good, and Nicky’s Family.
On July 1, 2015, Nicholas Winton passed at 106 years old. Until the day he passed, it was never clearly stated why he did what he did. In an interview with the New York Times in 2001 he stated:
Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.
What we can gather from this response was that he chose to live a life taking risks, and that made all the difference.