Kids saved from Nazis recreate train trip to meet rescuer

london  |  Elderly Holocaust survivors were reunited at a London railway station Sept. 4 with the man who saved them on the eve of World War II — a now 100-year-old former stockbroker who rescued hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

“For me he is like a father,” said Joseph Ginat, who was 10 when he traveled to England in August 1939 as part of the Kindertransports organized by Nicholas Winton.

“He gave us life,” said the 80-year-old Ginat, whose brother and two sisters were also among the 669 children carried to safety. Their mother died in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the rescue, a vintage train carrying some two dozen survivors, along with members of their families, pulled into London’s Liverpool Street Station after a three-day journey by rail and ferry from the Czech capital, Prague.

Nicholas Winton (center), who organized train rescues of children in 1939, greets Holocaust survivors arriving in London after a three-day trip across Europe to mark the 70th anniversary of their rescue. photo/ap/kirsty wigglesworth

Winton was there to greet them. Frail and in a wheelchair, he stood briefly with the help of a cane and shook hands with the former evacuees as they stepped off the train.

“It’s wonderful to see you all after 70 years,” a beaming Winton told the survivors, some of whom he was meeting for the first time. “Don’t leave it quite so long until we meet here again.”

Winton, whose parents were of German Jewish descent, was a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when he traveled to what was then Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1938 at the invitation of a friend working at the British Embassy.

Alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland region recently annexed by Germany, the young man feared — correctly — that the Nazis would soon invade Czechoslovakia and Jewish residents would be sent to concentration camps.

He immediately began organizing a way to get Jewish children out of the country.

Winton persuaded British officials to accept the children — as long as foster homes were found and a guarantee of 50 pounds was paid for each one — and set about fundraising and organizing the trip. He arranged eight trains to carry children through Germany to Britain in the months before the outbreak of war.

The youngsters were sent to foster homes in England, and a few to Sweden. Most never saw their parents again.

The largest evacuation was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany. That train never left, and almost none of the 250 children trying to flee that day survived the war.

Winton never spoke about the heroic rescue, not even to his wife, and his story did not emerge until 1988, when she found correspondence referring to the prewar events.

“My wife didn’t know about it for 40 years after our marriage, but there are all kinds of things you don’t talk about, even with your family,” Winton said in 1999.

Winton’s wife persuaded him to have his story documented, and a film about his heroism, “Nicholas Winton — The Power of Good,” won an International Emmy Award in 2002.

He rejected the description of himself as a hero, insisting that unlike Oskar Schindler, his life had never been in danger.

But for many of those he saved, he is unambiguously a hero. An estimated 5,000 people around the world owe their lives to Winton — the children he saved and their descendants.

“He doesn’t think that what he did was a big deal,” said Marianne Wolfson, 85, who traveled from her home in Chicago to make the anniversary journey. “But we got our life back.”

AP writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.