Little did Nicholas Winton know what was about to happen when he appeared on BBC’s ‘That’s Life!’ in 1988. was invited. But suddenly the 78-year-old Englishman was the center of attention. Because those responsible for the show had come up with a very special surprise: in the audience were dozens of people whose lives Winton had saved when they were children.

The studio would probably have been far too small to invite all those who owe their lives to Nicholas Winton. Shortly before the Second World War, he was responsible for rescuing a total of 669 Jewish children from the Nazis – and he would have preferred that no one ever found out about it. For decades, Winton kept his exploits to himself. It was not until 50 years later that his wife found a suitcase in the attic containing documents proving the rescue operation.

The BBC show in 1988 made Nicholas Winton famous in the UK and beyond, and since then he has been dubbed the “British Oskar Schindler” in the media. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 2002, and he died in 2015 at the age of 106. Now a new film shows his life. Anthony Hopkins plays the role of Nicholas Winton in his older years. One Life is slated to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and will hit UK cinemas in early 2024.

Winton himself was of Jewish descent; his parents emigrated to England at the beginning of the 20th century. He did an apprenticeship at a bank and later worked as a stockbroker in London. In 1938, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, he visited Prague with friends over Christmas. He was moved by the situation of the many – mainly Jewish – refugees streaming into the Czechoslovakian capital from the Sudetenland, which had already been occupied by the Nazis. Winton began reaching out locally for their help.

After his return to England, he continued to work for an aid organization alongside his work on the stock exchange. At least he wanted to save the children from the danger of the Nazis. He arranged foster families for them in Great Britain, collected donations for the costs incurred and organized a total of eight trains that brought children from Czechoslovakia to London. Inside were 669 children who, had it not been for Winton’s involvement, would most likely have been deported to concentration camps by the Nazis, who occupied the entire country six weeks after he left Prague.

At the beginning of September 1939, the largest transport with 250 children was to leave. But the Second World War begins with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, and the train is stopped. “”None of the 250 children were ever seen again. 250 foster families were already waiting in London. If the train had left Prague just a day earlier, it would have arrived too. What a horrible feeling,” Winton later said.

What part he played in saving hundreds of children remained a mystery for a long time. Winton didn’t talk about it, and the children didn’t know about it until well into adulthood. They believed that the Red Cross had helped them to leave the country. It was not until the late 1980s that Winton’s wife found records proving her husband’s involvement, including a list of the children who had been rescued. A lot of attention followed, which the now older gentleman did not like at all, and international honors. According to his daughter, at the time of his death, 7,000 people survived or were born because of his rescue operations.

Quellen: BBC / “Guardian” / Holocaust Memorial Day Trust