How 9 Ordinary People Became Heroes During The Holocaust — And Risked Everything To Save Jewish Lives

Published September 1, 2021
Updated March 12, 2024

Nicholas Winton: The British Stockbroker Who Saved Hundreds Of Children From The Nazis

Nicholas Winton

Yad Vashem Photo Archives/United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumNicholas Winton didn’t set out to become a hero — but he ultimately saved at least 669 children.

In December 1938, Nicholas Winton decided to go on a skiing trip. He didn’t know it yet, but the trip would change his life — and the lives of at least 669 Jewish children. That’s because, at the last minute, the trip didn’t happen.

Winton’s friend Martin Blake persuaded him to ditch the plan and come to Czechoslovakia instead. “Don’t bother to bring your skis,” Blake said.

Blake wanted to help Jewish refugees who had poured into Prague, fleeing the Nazis. But with war clouds looming on the horizon, their options had become increasingly limited. Winton realized that although he and Blake probably couldn’t save the adults, they could perhaps save the children.

“One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that,” Winton later explained.

Although Britain had made efforts to rescue refugee children from Austria and Germany, no such effort existed for Czechoslovakia. So, Winton created one. By forging documents from the slow-to-respond British Home Office — and offering a few bribes when he felt it was necessary — Winton helped register more than 900 children with foster families in England.

Thats Life

YouTubeOn a touching segment of That’s Life in 1988, TV producers surprised Nicholas Winton by reuniting him with some of the children he saved.

Starting on March 14, 1939, the first trainload of Winton’s children left Prague. Seven more trains followed. But the ninth — which was loaded with 250 children — tragically never made it out of the country. On the day of its departure, September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. The war began, and the borders shut down. Sadly, those children were never seen again.

But hundreds of other children were able to start new lives in England thanks to Winton, who remained quiet about his heroism during the Holocaust for many years after the fact. Indeed, Winton may have remained anonymous forever if his wife hadn’t shared his good deeds with historians.

Despite his later acclaim — Queen Elizabeth II made Winton a knight, and the Czech Republic awarded him the country’s highest honor, the Order of the White Lion — Winton always denied he’d done anything heroic.

“Why did I do it? Why do people do different things?” he once asked. “Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”

author
Kaleena Fraga
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
editor
John Kuroski
editor
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "How 9 Ordinary People Became Heroes During The Holocaust — And Risked Everything To Save Jewish Lives." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 1, 2021, https://allthatsinteresting.com/holocaust-heroes. Accessed April 24, 2024.