Sir Nicholas Winton 88.
(photo credit: )
A Briton who helped hundreds of Jewish children avoid being sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps from Czechoslovakia shortly before World War II received Tuesday the country's highest military decoration.
Sir Nicholas Winton, 98, was awarded the Cross of Merit of the 1st class by Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova for saving 669 Czechoslovak children by organizing train transport from Prague to London at the outbreak of the war in 1939.
"I am completely overwhelmed that should happen to me for something I did before most of you were born," Winton said during a ceremony at the defense ministry. "I thank you all."
In all, eight trainloads carried the mostly Jewish children through Hitler's Germany to Britain.
The youngsters were sent to foster parents - mostly in England, a small number in Sweden.
"My parents died in Auschwitz," said one of them, Asaf Auerbach, 79, who spent the war in Stoke on Trent. "It's important not to forget what happened," he said before a meeting with Winton earlier Tuesday.
Winton's story did not emerge until 1988 when his wife found correspondence referring to the prewar events. In 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised him as "Britain's Schindler" after the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who also saved Jewish lives during the war.
A film documenting Winton's heroism "Nicholas Winton - The Power of Good" won an International Emmy Award in 2002.
Winton was awarded another top Czech decoration, the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order, in 1998.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Tuesday he planned to nominate Winton for the Nobel Peace Prize.