His name was Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE, but in his early years, he had not been bestowed with such an honor as knighthood. That came about much later in his life. Sir Winton was born on May 19, 1909 in Hampstead, London, England. He was a British humanitarian, born to German-Jewish parents, Rudolph Wertheim (1881–1937), a bank manager, and his wife Barbara (née Wertheimer, 1888–1978) who had emigrated to Britain. His parents had moved to London two years before he was born. The family name was Wertheim, but they changed it to Winton in an effort at integration. They also converted to Christianity, and Winton was baptized. God had a plan for Sir Winton’s life, although he would not know that for years.
On the eve of World War II, Sir Winton knew what his calling had been, and he quietly set about orchestrating the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia. Sir Winton quickly found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. The operation was known as the Czech Kindertransport, which is German for “children’s transport, but it would not be called that right away. The transport was not a official operation, and was not sanctioned as such. He worked largely alone to set this up, and most people knew nothing about it for over 50 years, but the children did not forget the man they called the British Schindler, who had saved their lives.
Then, in 1988, he was invited to the BBC television program “That’s Life!.” It was a surprise party of sorts. Little did Sir Winton know, but his secret was no longer such a secret. Arriving at the show, Sir Winton was seated in a room full of people he did not know. Soon, the truth was told to him, and he found out that the “audience” was in fact a number of the children he had rescued all those years ago. The grateful children, now grown adults, wanted to reunite with the man who had saved then all those years ago. It was the British press who celebrated him and dubbed him the “British Schindler.” Sir Winton was brought to tears, as he looked around him at all of these people who owed him their very lives, but his story did not end there. In 2003, Nicholas Winton became Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia.” Then, on October 28, 2014, he was awarded the highest honor of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion (1st class), by Czech President Miloš Zeman. The little German-Jewish boy, whose family converted to Christianity, and who always felt a love for humanity and those in need, had become a great man indeed. God did have a plan for his life, and Sir Winton had made God proud. Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE passed away peacefully in his sleep on July 1, 2015, at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, Berkshire, England, at the age of 106 years, having lived a full life. After the war, Winton worked for the International Refugee Organization and then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris, where he met Grete Gjelstrup, a Danish secretary and accountant’s daughter. They married in her hometown of Vejle on October 31, 1948. The couple settled in Maidenhead, England, where they raised their three children: Nick (born 1951), Barbara (born 1954) and the youngest Robin (1956–1962), who was born with Down syndrome. At the family’s insisted Robin stayed with them, rather than being sent to a residential home. Sir Winton’s son, Robin died of meningitis, the day before his sixth birthday. The death was devastating for Winton and he founded a local support organization that later became Maidenhead Mencap. Winton stood, unsuccessfully, for the town council in 1954, but later found work in the finance departments of various companies. His wife, Grete preceded him in death in 1999. Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE was a truly remarkable man.