'British Schindler,' Holocaust hero dies at 106

Sir Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 children during the Holocaust by putting them on trains to England and finding them foster homes.

Petr Josek/Reuters/File
Nicholas Winton holds flowers after the premiere of the movie "Nicky's family" which is based on his life story, in this file photograph dated January 20, 2011. The man who became known as the "British Schindler" for saving hundreds of children from Nazi persecution in the run-up to World War Two has died at the age of 106.

Sir Nicholas Winton – the man known as the “British Schindler,” who rescued hundreds of children bound for concentration camps during the Holocaust – died Wednesday at the age of 106, the BBC reported.

His death coincides with the 86th anniversary of the largest exodus to safety orchestrated by Mr. Winton, in which 241 children boarded a Britain-bound train from Prague.

Winton was a stockbroker in London when World War II began, and traveled to Czechoslovakia to arrange the transport and foster care of children who would otherwise be sent to concentration camps, according to the BBC. A 1938 Act of Parliament allowed refugee children to enter Britain as long as money was deposited to ultimately send them back home.

Winton set up eight trips from Prague between March and August of 1939, as well as several smaller ones from Vienna, and saved a total of 669 children.

Many of these children – the youngest of whom are now octogenarians – never saw their parents again, but are thought of as Winton’s children because, as Czech ambassador to the United Kingdom Michael Zantovsky said, “They all owe their existence to him.”

The BBC interviewed several of Winton’s “children” for a documentary called “Saved by Sir Nicholas.”

90-year-old Ruth Halova recalled in her interview lining up outside of Winton’s Prague office with her family.

"There was a long queue and at the end of the queue was a small office, and we got some forms to fill in," she said. "Within three months we got the names of foster parents who were prepared to take us in, and mine were a Mr. and Mrs. Jones from Birmingham."

Remembering the train, she said, "There was a steam engine, the old wagons were made of wooden planks … Everybody got this label on cardboard with a piece of string with a number [on it], and then we were shoved into the carriages."

Zuzana Maresov said she remembered not understanding what was happening. Her mother never explained the arrangement to her; she only gave Ms. Maresov a book of flowers and told her  "you're going to a place where these flowers grow.”

Once she was aboard the train, Maresov said she felt “rather excited because we thought it was some kind of adventure," but was confused by the faces of crying parents she watched through the window.

Arriving in England only brought more confusion, as she was met by a man who did not speak Czech.

"He had a paper with all sorts of questions in English and Czech,” she said. “Whenever he wanted to ask me something he pointed: 'Are you hungry? Do you want to eat something? Do you want to drink something? Do you want to use the toilet?'"

Despite the many lives Winton’s “Kindertransport” affected, the operation remained secret until 1988, when his wife Grete found a scrapbook of related documents in their attic.

Later that year, Winton appeared on the BBC’s “That Life,” where he was reunited with several of the children he had saved.

His passing also came on the day a former Auschwitz sergeant, Oskar Groening, testified to his role in stealing money and valuables from prisoners. Mr. Groening has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, the Associated Press reported.

Late last month, the Jewish People Policy Institute released a report estimating that the world's Jewish population is approaching its pre-Holocaust numbers, indicating both natural growth in the population as well as as increase in the number of self-identifying Jews with only one Jewish parent.

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