Tornado helps recreate rescue train

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winton_train

Sir Nicholas Winton in 1939 with one of the children he rescued.
Photo Winton Train.

From the Toronto Sun.

In December 1938, 29-year-old London stockbroker Nicholas Winton was preparing to take a skiing vacation with a friend in Switzerland. But that friend — who worked in the British Embassy in Prague — insisted Winton come to Czechoslovakia instead to see what was happening there.

What Nicky Winton found in Prague in December 1938 were refugee camps filled with families, many Jewish, who had fled the Nazis and had nowhere else to run. Because no one would take them in.

Winton could not leave Prague. He became fixated on getting the refugees to safety, especially the children. Using a table in his hotel’s lounge area as his office, Winton began writing every possible government to find safe haven for the children of the Prague refugee camps. And parents began seeking him out to have their children listed for transportation to safety.

The only governments willing to allow entry were Sweden and Britain — Britain reluctantly, and only if every child had a sponsor signed up to take him or her in and only if a 50-pound surety (a considerable sum at that time) was paid for each child.

Winton shifted his one-man rescue mission back to London and began lining up sponsors for his children.

Throughout his hectic eight-month mission, Winton said the Nazis were not as much of a problem as was the British bureaucracy. The Nazis simply wanted to be paid to give the children through-passage (sometimes doubling the payment demand at the last hour) but the British were blind foot-draggers. Few in the British government thought the refugees were in immediate danger. War? What war? We gave Hitler Sudetenland. Everything’s fine.

As 1939 dragged on and the British government dragged its heels, Winton and his growing organization took to printing forged admission papers for children who were approved, but whose papers were not forthcoming.

“We didn’t bring anyone in illegally,” Winton says. “We just speeded up the process.”

Sir Nicholas Winton, 100, was at London’s Liverpool Street station this morning to welcome passengers on board a very special ‘steam special’ from Prague named after him. The train organised by Czech Railways, followed the route taken 70 years ago by 8 trains that he organised that brought 669 mostly Jewish children to the UK. A ninth train, with 250 children on board, had been due to leave on 1 September 1939 – the day war broke out. German troops prevented the train’s departure, then, under Gestapo orders, the train moved out. The 251 children aboard were never seen again.

Twenty-two of the original evacuees took part in the anniversary journey. The A1 Locomotive’s Trust A1 pacific Tornado hauled the British leg of the trip from Harwich to Liverpool Street Station.

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4 Responses to “Tornado helps recreate rescue train”

  1. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    Really moving.

    The past is a different country, and perhaps we should be grateful for that!

  2. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    Heading photo has the wrong name. Winterton is a Polititian!

  3. Mike Smith Says:

    Sir Nicholas should be presented with the headboard carried on the front of Tornado. It would make a superb souvenir for this wonderful man.

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