On the 105th Birthday of Sir Nicholas Winton, Vera Schaufeld blogs about how his actions saved the lives of over 600 children.
It is wonderful to celebrate the 105th birthday of Sir Nicholas Winton and to remember that among his many achievements, he was responsible for organising the Kindertransport of Czech Jewish children to Britain after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. I was one of those children.
I was born in 1930 and grew up in Klatovy, a small town in Czechoslovakia which was just south of Prague. My father was a lawyer and a leader of the Jewish community. Within a few days of the Nazi occupation, he was arrested but then released again. As a result of his imprisonment, he realised very quickly the danger of staying in Czechoslovakia and made the tough decision to place me on a list to come to safety in England. I was 9 years old. My parents hoped that they would soon be able to join me, but they were not able to obtain a visa. I didn’t know that on 1 June 1939 I was never going to see any of my family again.
Nicholas Winton arrived in Prague quite by chance. An English stockbroker, he was about to travel to Switzerland on a skiing holiday but received a call for help from his friend, Martin Blake, who was involved in Jewish refugee work, so made a detour to Czechoslovakia to assist him. He was so taken by the plight of the Jewish children that he set up an organisation in his hotel to aid families with Jewish children. Nicholas saw the urgent need to rescue Jewish children and to send them to safety and also to find British families who would accept them in their homes.
I was given a home in a Christian family in Bury St Edmunds who looked after me until I could go to college. They had a daughter, Betty, who was 3 years older than me and she regarded me as a sister. I was sent to boarding school with Betty and it was here that I learnt English, quickly enjoying life at school.
Throughout the war, I thought I was going to be reunited with my parents in Czechoslovakia so it was a terrible shock to receive a letter from the Red Cross telling me that none of my family had survived and I had no home to return to in Klatovy.
I met my husband, Avram, on a Kibbutz in Israel. We married and returned to England, where I spent most of my life as a teacher. I have 2 daughters and am fortunate enough to have 4 grandchildren, who, if it wasn’t for Nicholas Winton wouldn’t be here today. Nicholas Winton saved my life and that of 669 other Czech children and for that I will always owe him a debt of gratitude.