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02:46PM, Wednesday 01 July 2015
Sir Nicholas Winton, the Maidenhead man who saved hundreds of Czech Jewish children from Nazi persecution, has died aged 106.
The Rotary Club of Maidenhead announced today that Sir Nicholas, who lived in Pinkneys Green, died peacefully early this morning with his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren at his side.
He passed away exactly 76 years to the day since a train carrying 241 children he had saved departed from Prague.
In total, he helped smuggle 669 mostly Jewish children from the former Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War. They were transported to Britain, and rehomed.
Paying tribute on Twitter, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton's humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust."
Sir Nicholas was born on May 19, 1909 in London.
He worked as a stockbroker before heading to Prague in 1938 to help with welfare work for Czech refugees.
He was aged 29 when he masterminded the rescue of the children, who were destined for concentration camps, from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
He kept the story to himself for many years until an old scrapbook containing the details of it emerged.
It became public knowledge when it featured on the BBC programme That’s Life in 1988, and Sir Nicholas was reunited with many of the children he rescued.
He was knighted in 2003 for services to humanity.
A statue of him was unveiled on platform three at Maidenhead Railway Station in 2010. There are also statues at Liverpool Street Station in London where the ‘kindertransports’ arrived in the UK, and at Prague’s main railway station.
On his 105th birthday in 2014 it was announced he would receive the Czech Republic’s highest honour, the Order of the White Lion.
In February 2015 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London.
Sir Nicholas, of Pinkneys Green, was a member and former president of Maidenhead Rotary Club, president of Maidenhead Mencap, and was a founder member of the town’s Probus Club.
His motto was: “If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.”
“Sir Nicholas Winton was a hero of the 20th century. Against the odds, he almost single-handedly rescued hundreds of children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazis – an enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times. Because of his modesty, this astonishing contribution only came to light many years later. So many people owe their lives to Nicholas and it was fitting that, in his later years, he finally received the recognition he deserved. Maidenhead is rightly proud of all that he did, and we must ensure that his legacy lives on by continuing to tackle anti-Semitism and discrimination wherever it arises.”
Mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Cllr Eileen Quick said: "This is extremely sad news. Sir Nicholas was not just a hero in Maidenhead but around the world. In 1999 he was awarded Honorary Freedom of the Royal Borough for his work with local charities and organisations for over fifty years; since 2010 a statue of him has been at Maidenhead Railway station.
“I had the pleasure of meeting him several times and saw how generously he gave his time and expertise to local groups. I wish his family and friends my sincere condolences at this difficult time.”
Maidenhead Synagogue Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said: "How many of us even save one life ? That is heroic enough in itself. To save 669 is almost beyond description.
"Moreover, that number has expanded since then, through their children, grandchildren and now even great grandchildren.
"The result is that there are thousands of individuals alive today solely because of him. He did not like being dubbed 'the English Schindler' but that was exactly who he was.
"Winton always expressed surprise at the attention he received and denied that he was courageous, claiming that ‘I was at the right place at the right time’. He was mistaken. He deliberately went to the right place and then acted in the right way, and at a time when many others did neither.
"He stands out as a beacon for all those who respond to calls for help when they could so easily pretend not to hear."
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