Sir Nicholas Winton has been referred to as the ‘British Schindler’. In 1939, as Europe was descending into war, he organised safe passage for hundreds of Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. All in all, Winton saved the lives of 669 children, finding them homes in the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, some of those he saved returned to Prague to take part in a train journey across Europe in his honour. I traveled with them on the first leg of the Winton Train’s journey:
The sound of a steam engine and the cloying smell of engine oil made a one-off return to Prague’s Main Station on Tuesday morning. On the departures board; a special train bound for London, England, carrying some of the 669 children saved from the Holocaust by the foresight and compassion of one British man, Sir Nicholas Winton. In 1939, Winton organised a number of ‘kindertransports’, ushering Czech and German Jewish children to safety in Britain before the outbreak of war.
One of the people that Nicholas Winton transported to safety was Hana Franklová. Inside the carriage which will be her home for the next four days, she remembers the original journey from Prague to London:
“There were wooden benches when we first went on this train. It lasted two days only because we didn’t stop in Germany, anywhere. It wasn’t easy to go through Germany, because I remember that at one of the stations there were the Hitler Jugend with their drums, shouting at us, and we had to shut the windows.”
Eve Leadbeater is sharing a carriage with Hana Franklová, she was transported to London in July 1939:
“I have only very, very vague memories, because I was only eight. And when I arrived in England I didn’t see anybody else from Czechoslovakia for 50 years really, until we had the reunion of the kinder transports. So I had nobody to remind me of what happened. Plus, something like that you push to the back of your mind to get on with your life. So, to be honest, the memory of waving goodbye to my parents, I’m not sure if it is mine or if I got it from other people.”
Why did you decide to come on this recreation of the Winton kindertransports?
“I actually hesitated, because I knew it would be painful in parts. But I just thought it would be a kind of neat end, and a kind of act of gratitude to my parents and to Nicholas Winton.”
You said that you had pushed some of these memories to the back of your mind. Does that mean that this morning coming back to Prague Main Station and boarding this train was particularly emotional?
“It was pretty emotional, I think, yes. Because I was just thinking about my parents’ sacrifice and my brother who didn’t make it. He was due to come on September 1 and didn’t make it.”
Waiting in London will be Nicholas Winton himself. What do you think of him and everything he has done?
“I think he is an example to us all, and a wonderful man, and I just want to say thank you.”
The Winton Train leaves Prague 70 years after the Nazi invasion of Poland
and the outbreak of WWII. The war brought an abrupt end to Winton’s
humanitarian efforts – the last and biggest transport of children from
Prague to London on September 3, 1939, never left. It is thought that none
of the 251 children who were set to be on board survived.
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