Sir Nicholas Winton
by James Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To reflect on the life of Sir Nicholas Winton.
Preparation and materials
- To familiarize yourself with Sir Nicholas Winton’s story, see the YouTube video, Sir Nicholas Winton: The man who saved 669 children from the Nazis, Channel 4 News (available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxkCeVtwHl8). It is 3.02 minutes long.
- Have available the song ‘Freedom!’ by George Michael and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- Throughout history, there have been those who did nothing in the face of injustice – and those who did something. One of the people in this second group is Sir Nicholas Winton.
- Sir Nicholas was a London stockbroker in 1938 when he changed his holiday plans and, instead of going to Switzerland skiing, he went to Nazi-occupied areas of the Czech Republic. He visited refugee camps near Prague and was aware that something needed to be done to help the people there. Coming from a German-Jewish family, he knew that the Nazi regime was a real threat to the refugees.
- Sir Nicholas decided to evacuate the children in Kindertransports – that is, trains taking them to new families in Britain. Using his hotel room as a temporary office and, once he returned home, working on the project in the evenings after work, he arranged for eight trains of children to be brought to safety in the UK and found foster parents for them. A ninth train could not depart, owing to the outbreak of the Second World War. Of the 250 children on board that last train, none survived the war. That would surely have been the fate of the 669 who made it to England. They owed their lives to Sir Nicholas’ actions.
He, though, was modest about his achievements, rarely talking about what he’d done in the many years afterwards as he thought it unremarkable. Indeed, his story may well have remained unknown to us had a family friend not passed his scrapbook to a newspaper. The story was then taken up by the That’s Life! TV programme. The scrapbook contained pictures, documents, letters and photos relating to the mission and a list of the names of all the children who had been rescued, a bit like a register. Using this information, in 1988, the BBC was able to put together a special episode of That’s Life! in which Sir Nicholas appeared in an audience made up of the children he had saved from the Nazis – they were only too glad to have the chance to thank him for what he had done for them. He was knighted in 2003.
In 2014, the Czech president arranged for Sir Nicholas, aged 105, to be flown on a military flight to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, and there at an official ceremony be presented with the country’s highest honour, the Order of the White Lion, in recognition of his actions.
Time for reflection
The story of Sir Nicholas Winton tells us that we can always stand up to injustice and protect others. Through his selfless acts, he became a hero to many people and has been recognized as a great man. He, though, never drew attention to what he had done, not even mentioning it for many, many years. Instead, he chose to let the act speak for itself.
‘Freedom!’ by George Michael