Nicholas Winton, who spent a two-week vacation to Prague in 1938 rescuing 669 children from almost certain death during the Holocaust, died Wednesday in Maidenhead, England. He was 106 years old.
The local Rotary club of Maidenhead, of which Winton was a member and former president, first announced the news. "His life has been one of quiet service, and he totally fulfilled the exhortation of Horace to 'Do good by stealth and blush to find it fame,'" the club wrote in a statement on their website.
After saving the 699 children, Winton returned to England and said nothing of his incredible deed for 50 years, until his wife found evidence of it in an old scrapbook in the attic of his home.
"I work on the motto that if something is not impossible, there must be a way of doing it." Winton said modestly of his efforts on 60 Minutes in 2014.
The story: In 1938, Winton was a wealthy London stockbroker, but after hearing of a refugee crisis developing in Czechoslovakia after the Nazi occupation he decided to go down and see what he could do. Arriving shortly after Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass," the now infamous Jewish pogrom, the conditions he found were appalling.
While most countries closed their eyes and their doors, Britain made an exception to accept children under 17 if they could find host families in the country. The so-called "kindertransport," was a lifeline to many, if they could get across the Channel. Czechoslovakia, on the eve of war, did not have the system to facilitate refugee transfer so Winton decided to set one up. The process involved regular dealings with Nazi agents, bribes, forgery and no small amount of danger to his own life.
Winton managed to load seven trains full of mostly Jewish children of Czechoslovakia, through the heart of Nazi Germany and then to Holland, before reaching their destination in Britain. An eighth train — the most crowded one — was stopped at the border. It was Sept. 1, 1939, the day German Chancellor Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.
1988: When Winton's story went public, it generated an avalanche of international media activity. The English press dubbed him the British Schindler, a reference to the German who also famously saved Jews during the Holocaust and was immortalized in Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List.
That same year, the BBC put together a program that allowed some of the kids Winton saved to be reunited with the man responsible for their lives.
"it was the most emotional moment of my life," Winton told 60 Minutes.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. In a conflict marked by the most extreme human tragedies, it is critically important to also remember stories like Winton's. One can only hope that there were other like him, who, after it was over, just never thought of mentioning it.