In a long overdue ceremony, 105-year-old Sir Nicolas Winton was given the Czech Republic’s greatest state honor for saving 669 children from the Nazis before World War II.
Winton was 29 when he fearlessly hatched the plan that would send Jewish children to the safety of England before the Nazis could relocate them to concentration camps.
Winton was able to secure British passports for the children as well as organize foster families who would take them in. Many of the children that Winton saved were in attendance for his ceremony.
After being given the “Order of the White Lion” from the Czech president, Winton addressed the audience, thanking the families who volunteered to adopt the children.
"I want to thank you all for this enormous expression of thanks for something which happened to me nearly 100 years ago - and a 100 years is a heck of a long time," said Winton. “I am delighted that so many of the children are still about and are here to thank me."
Winton’s story only came to light in 1980’s when his wife discovered an old scrapbook. Winton had kept his actions secret from everyone, not wanting to attract attention.
In 1938, Winton was a stockbroker operating out of England. He came from a Jewish family and unlike most politicians of the time, he was able to surmise what Nazi Germany had in store for the Jewish people.
"I knew better than most, and certainly better than the politicians, what was going on in Germany," he said.
After visiting a refugee camp in Prague, Winton made the decision that he could not simply sit by and watch the inhumane actions continue. Winton organized nine trains that would safely deliver the children to England. The first eight were successful, but the last train carrying 225 children was halted by the outbreak of World War II. It is unknown, but highly unlikely that any of the children aboard the train survived.
Winton offered a chilling warning about learning from history and not diving into the same pitfalls of our ancestors. "I don't think we've ever learnt from the mistakes of the past. The world today is now in a more dangerous situation than it has ever been and so long as you've got weapons of mass destruction which can finish off any conflict, nothing is safe any more."