Around 20 of the 669 mostly Jewish children saved from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by Nicholas Winton recreated their 1939 journey by steam train across Europe this week, arriving at Liverpool St on Friday morning. Sir Nicholas – now 100 years old - was there to welcome them. Also there on the platform was Štefan Füle, minister for European Affairs and a former Czech ambassador, and it was there at Liverpool St that he spoke to Radio Prague’s Rosie Johnston.
“I’m here because I know Sir Nicholas Winton, and ever since I arrived here, and since I heard about this great story, I was very keen to be a part of anything that would remember that story. Because this story of great human solidarity needs to be told again and again and again. That’s why I’m here.”
As you said you were an ambassador to London for many years, and during that time your embassy was very often engaged with Mr Winton and the Winton children. Can you tell me about getting to know him and the people whose lives he saved?
“Yes, when I arrived I saw that BBC programme from 1988, which was very moving, and then I found people who made it possible for me to meet Sir Nicholas and to talk to him. And then there was a great idea to celebrate his 95th birthday – and look, he’s now 100 years old! – we celebrated his 95 years at the Czech Embassy. We tried to invite as many people as possible, and there were dozens and dozens of people, and one of the most moving stories was one which says that he saved almost 670 people at that time, but today there are thousands of those living and taking the story with them as relatives [of people he saved], and it was extremely moving on this opportunity of his 95th birthday to see the generations of people sharing the story.”
What do you think of Mr Winton as a person?
“He’s a great man, and very humble, if you think about it, he’s a man who was extremely brave and courageous at this age, but his story was forgotten, and it was only at the age of 80 when it was rediscovered. I hope that there are more people with the kind of stories like his.”
What do you think of this Winton Train project?
“It’s a fantastic idea, I mean look at this enthusiasm and emotion here in London. I can tell you about the emotions in Prague a couple of days ago, when the train started. It’s a great thing to put together the people again with Sir Nicholas, in a train with the actual type of carriages used at that time.”