Sir Nicholas Winton

Canadians will know Joe Schlesinger well. Mr. Schlesinger was an executive producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) beginning in 1966, but quickly found his niche as a foreign correspondent for the CBC in such disparate locations as Hong Kong, Berlin, Washington, Central America and more. He was born in Austria in 1928 to a Jewish family, and raised in Czechoslovakia. In 1938, after Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany, Mr. Schlesinger and his younger brother, Ernest, were sent to England, in the “kindertransport,” that was the brainchild of Nicholas Winton. Mr. Winton, a British citizen and businessman, arranged for the transport of 669 Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia to Britain and to Sweden. Our Mr. Schlesinger lost his parents to the Holocaust, but made the most of his opportunity as a distinguished journalist for some 40 years. He passed away at age 90 on the 11th of February this year. That is “Joe” below with the U.S. Capitol Building in the background.

Sir Nicholas George Winton was born in 1909 in England to parents of German Jewish origins (the family name being Wertheim). He got an early start in banking and became a stockbroker; work that took him to continental Europe. In November, 1938, “Kristallnacht” (“the Night of Broken Glass”); a pogrom in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland, was carried out by paramilitary forces and civilians. The result was the destruction of Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues, the murder of Jews and the transport of thousands of Jews to concentration camps. Below: One of the more than 200 synagogues that were destroyed during Kristallnacht.

It was Kristallnacht that moved Nicholas Winton to action. He established an organization to assist children of Jewish families – families at risk from the Nazis. Despite the challenges of transporting the children from Czechoslovakia and through the Netherlands, 669 children were moved to the United Kingdom and some to Sweden. Many of their parents did not survive the war. There was to be another group of 250 children to be sent abroad, but their fate was sealed with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and with that the beginning of the Second World War. Of the 250 that were left behind, only two survived the war.

Nicholas Winton above, with one of his charges.

By all accounts, Nicholas Winton was a humble man. It wasn’t until 1988 that his wife found a scrapbook that detailed the names of the “kindertransport” children, their parents, and that names of those who took the children under their care. That same year, in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s television programme, “That’s Life,” Nicholas was invited to be a member of the audience, and unbeknownst to him, his scrapbook was unveiled, and “kindertransport” explained. In a truly moving tribute, the programme’s host, Esther Rantzen, asked members of the audience whether anybody owed theirs lives to Nicholas Winton. More than two dozen came forward to acknowledge and to thank him. (If you have 4 minutes and 41 seconds, go to youtube, and search for, “Story of Nicholas Winton BBC That’s Life,” and I guarantee you will be brought to tears).

In 2003, Nicholas Winton was knighted by the Queen. His courage and actions have been widely recognized by the Czech government, and in his home town of Maidenhead, England, a statue of Sir Nicholas was unveiled in 2010 by Theresa May, then Britain’s Home Secretary.

Deservedly, Sir Nicholas lived a long life, passing away in 2015 at the age of 106. Sir Nicholas is shown below greeting Joe Schlesinger.