Sir Nicholas Winton
Platform 3, Maidenhead Railway Station, Maidenhead, England
He sits and watches the trains as they arrive and depart from the station, themilling of passengers as they wait on platforms for the their connections. But for Nicholas Winton, a train was much more than a way to get to work or gethome. It was a promise of safety, and of freedom. In 1938, Nicholas was 29. He was a stockbroker, and a successful one. At a time when Europe was in turmoil, when Nazism seemed unstoppable, when countries were tightening their borders against the thousands of Jewish immigrants fleeing prosecution in Germany, life forNicholas Winton was safe and secure. He even had a winter holiday to look forward to that December, skiing in the hills around Prague, Czechoslovakia. And then, Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. 9 November 1938. Nazis in Germany smashed up Synagogues, shattered Jewish shops and businesses, destroyed Jewish homes and schools. Life for Germany’s Jewish communities had been pretty unbearable since Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor in 1933. They’d been dismissed from public sector jobs, made to wear identifying yellow badges, and even been told they no longer had the right to be German citizens. But now,Hitler’s supporters had worked themselves into an anti-Semitic frenzy. The Jewish population of Germany knew things were about to get a lot worse. And the same went for the Jewish population of Czechoslovakia, where Hitler already had control over Sudetenland, the country’s northern and western German-speaking areas. So Nicholas Winton wasn’t the only person travelling to Prague that December. The city was filling up with Jewish people escaping Nazi-held Sudetenland. They were made to live in refugee camps and were struggling for survival in the harsh, Prague winter. Nicholas saw them, and knew he had to do something. Fast. Because not only was the winter hard and relentless, but everyone knew that before long, Nazi tanks would be rolling into the city. He gave up his job in London. And with the help of his colleagues, Martin Blake and Dorren Warriner, he set up an office in a Prague hotel room and startedorganizing the evacuation of Jewish children to Britain, and to safety. Britain had relaxed its immigration policy to let in Jewish children after Kristallnacht; but to be allowed to stay, each child would need a place to live and a sponsor, so the child would not be a burden to the state. Nicholas put adverts in British newspapers calling for volunteers – for people who’d agree to foster a child they’d never met. Somehow, he found a lot of them. Then, he put the children on trains bound for London, for safety and for freedom. Hesaved the lives of 669 children. And incredibly, after the war, he never spoke of it. It was only in 1988 that his wife stumbled across letters and photosfrom Nicholas’ time in Prague that his story was became known. Nicholas died in 2015 at the age of 106, having spent many of his later years at Pinkneys Green outside Maidenhead. But he’s remembered all around the world. There’s a statue of him on a platform at Prague’s main train station. He received a letter of thanks from the President of Israel. And Queen Elizabeth II made him a knight. But as far as Nicholas concerned, he was no hero. He put it quite simply: ‘There are some stories which we are not only an audience to, but may become their participants.’ And that is a lesson to us all.
Local artist Lydia Karpinska was commissioned to create this statue in 2010. It shows Sir Nicholas reading a book containing images of the children he saved and the trains he used to evacuate them.