Nicholas Winton Biography

(British Humanitarian and Banker)

Birthday: May 19, 1909 (Taurus)

Born In: Hampstead, London, England, United Kingdom

Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE, was a humanitarian from Britain who set up an organization to move children from Nazi-occupied Europe to safety in Britain. The son of German-Jewish parents, Winton grew up in London. Since moving to England, his parents had undergone conversion to Christianity and changed their name from Wertheim to Winton in order to integrate into the British society. He studied at Stowe School but left before completing his education. In the next few years, he worked at various financial institutions. At one point, he worked as a stockbroker. Despite this, he joined politics as a socialist and was heavily active in protests against Nazi Germany. At the advent of World War II, Winton rescued 669 children, most of whom were Jewish, from Czechoslovakia and transported them to Britain. The operation later was given a name, Czech Kindertransport (German for "children's transport"). For the next five decades, he lived in relative obscurity as his work was largely unknown. After BBC did a story on him in 1988, he received widespread media attention. Due to his actions, media hailed Winton as "British Schindler."

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In May

Also Known As: Nicholas George Wertheim


Spouse/Ex-: Grete Gjelstrup (m. 1948)

father: Rudolph Wertheim

mother: Barbara Wertheim

siblings: Charlotte, Robert

children: Barbara Winton, Nick Winton, Robin Winton

Born Country: England

Humanitarian Human Rights Activists

Died on: July 1, 2015

place of death: Slough, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom

City: London, England

Grouping of People: Centenarian

Cause of Death: Cardio-respiratory Failure

More Facts

awards: Member of the Order of the British Empire
Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Order of the White Lion

Knight Bachelor
British Hero of the Holocaust

Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 19, 1909, in Hampstead, London, UK, Winton was the son of Rudolph Wertheim (1881–1937) and Barbara (née Wertheimer, 1888–1978). His father was a bank manager. Winton grew up with an elder sister named Charlotte (1908–2001) and a younger brother named Robert (1914–2009).
In 1923, he started attending Stowe School, from where he eventually dropped out. He subsequently studied at a night school while doing volunteering work at the Midland Bank. Later, he was employed at Behrens Bank and Wasserman Bank in Berlin.
In 1931, he relocated to France and was hired by the Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris. While there, he obtained a banking qualification. After he returned to London, he began working as a broker at the London Stock Exchange.
Despite being a stockbroker, Winton held strong socialist beliefs and became acquainted with Labour Party luminaries Aneurin Bevan, Jennie Lee, and Tom Driberg. He later joined a left-wing circle that advocated against the Nazis.
While he was in school, he garnered some recognition as a fencer. In 1938, he was picked for the British national team. He wanted to compete in the Olympics, but the games did not take place that year due to the war.
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Kindertransport Rescue
Just before Christmas 1938, Nicholas Winton made plans to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. He later changed his mind and went to Prague to support Martin Blake, who was serving as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia at the time. Nazi Germany had already begun the invasion of the country, and Blake reached out to Winton for help with the Jewish welfare work.
Winton set up an organization to help children from Jewish families that were facing danger from the Nazis. He worked out of his room at a hotel in Wenceslas Square.
After Kristallnacht occurred in Nazi Germany in November 1938, the House of Commons in Britain passed a bill granting refugees younger than 17 the permission to enter the country, provided they had a place of temporary residence in Britain and could deposit £50 as a warranty for when they went back to their country.
One of the biggest issues with transporting the children to safety was obtaining official permission to cross into the Netherlands, as they were supposed to take a ferry at Hook of Holland. However, by then, the Dutch government had sealed off the country’s border to any Jewish refugees.
As he had received promises from the British government, Winton was able to successfully transport the children through the Netherlands. The process became almost trouble-free after the first train. Ultimately, Winton was able to place 669 children in various British homes. Many of these children would lose their parents to Nazi persecution.
Winton was helped by his mother in finding the children proper homes and later hostels. He spent the summer of 1939 by posting photographs of children in the ‘Picture Post’ magazine, searching for families to take them in.
He sent letters to several US politicians, including Roosevelt, requesting them to accept more children. He later stated that two thousand more children could have been saved if he and his associates had the support of these politicians. Only Sweden, besides Britain, agreed to help.
The last group was comprised of 250 children. They were supposed to depart from Prague on September 1, 1939. However, the Nazi invasion of Poland started on the same day, and the children were not able to leave. At the end of the war, only two of these children were discovered still alive.
In a later statement, Winton mentioned Doreen Warriner, Trevor Chadwick, Nicholas Stopford, Beatrice Wellington, Josephine Pike, and Bill Barazetti as the people who worked with him in rescuing the children.
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He spent about three weeks in Prague before the Nazi invasion. He had never been to Prague Station. According to him, Chadwick performed the more difficult and dangerous work following the Nazi invasion and is worthy of all praise.
Serving in the Red Cross & British Military
During World War II, Winton became a conscientious objector and joined the Red Cross. He revoked his objections in 1940 and enlisted in the Royal Air Force, Administrative and Special Duties Branch. On May 19, 1954, he gave up his commission but kept the honorary rank of flight lieutenant.
Winton’s heroic exploits remained largely unknown for 50 years. In 1988, his wife discovered a detailed scrapbook in their attic. It had lists of children as well as the names of their parents and the identities and addresses of the families who accepted them into their homes.
She approached Elisabeth Maxwell, a French researcher on the Holocaust and media magnate Robert Maxwell’s wife, with the scrapbook. Letters were written to these addresses, and 80 of the rescued children were located in Britain.
After his appearance on an episode of BBC’s ‘That’s Life’ in February 1988, the wider world came to know of his actions.
In the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours, Nicholas Winton was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for setting up the Abbeyfield homes for the elderly in Britain.
In 2003, he was granted a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for the Czech Kindertransport.
In October 2014, the government of the Czech Republic honoured him with the Order of the White Lion (1st class), the country’s highest honour.
The Czech government submitted his name for nomination for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.
Family & Personal Life
After the war ended, Winton served with the International Refugee Organization and then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris. During this period, he became acquainted with Grete Gjelstrup. The couple exchanged wedding vows on October 31, 1948, in Vejle, which was Grete’s hometown.
They had three children: Nick (born 1951), Barbara (1954), and Robin (1956–62). Their youngest was born with Down Syndrome. The family resided in Maidenhead, England.
Death & Legacy
On the morning of July 1, 2015, Winton passed away in his sleep at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough after suffering cardio-respiratory failure. He had been brought to the hospital a week before following a rapid decline in his health. He was 106 years old at the time.
His death coincided with the 76th anniversary of the day when the 241 children he had rescued left Prague on a train.

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