Jews recreate kindertransport train trip

Elderly Holocaust survivors who escaped Nazis as kids arrive in London, meet man who organized ride.

winton holocaust kinderstransports 248 (photo credit: )
winton holocaust kinderstransports 248
(photo credit: )
It took 70 years for this reunion, but when the vintage steam train pulled into London with a group of elderly Holocaust survivors, the emotions started to flow. Under the sprawling canopy of the Liverpool Street Station, the survivors were reunited Friday with the man who as a fearless young stockbroker saved every one of them from the Nazis. Nicholas Winton, now at 100 frail and leaning on a stick, greeted some of the hundreds of Jewish children that he worked so hard to evacuate from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II. "It's wonderful to see you all after 70 years," he said, shaking hands with former evacuees as they stepped off the train. "Don't leave it quite so long until we meet here again." The three-day trip from Prague - by rail and ferry - recreated the fateful journey the survivors made as children, part of the "kindertransports" organized by Winton that carried 669 mostly Jewish children to safety in England. Winton, as a 29-year-old visiting what was then Czechoslovakia, had become alarmed by the flood of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and was determined to save as many children as he could. The train Friday carried about two dozen survivors, along with members of their families, 170 people in all. Some survivors gave Winton flowers, while others posed for photographs as a band played festive music. "I am very glad he had the strength and energy to meet us. It is emotionally very important," said 80-year-old Joseph Ginat, who was 10 when he traveled to England in August 1939 with his brother and two sisters. His mother died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. "For me, he is like a father," Ginat said. "He gave us life." Some of the survivors were meeting Winton for the first time. The passengers traveled from Prague to The Netherlands in vintage German and Hungarian railway coaches pulled by 1930s steam locomotives. After crossing the North Sea by ferry, they completed the journey in a refurbished British steam train. Other survivors of the transports who did not make the anniversary journey from Prague gathered at the station to meet the train. "It's amazing. It happened so many years ago, yet I remember it so vividly," said Otto Deutsch, 81, who lives in Southend, southern England. "I never saw my parents again or my sister. My parents were shot and what they did with my sister I really don't want to know." In late 1938, Winton, a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange, traveled to what was then Czechoslovakia 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, Winton immediately began organizing a way to get Jewish children out of the country. He feared, correctly, that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents would be sent to concentration camps. Winton persuaded British officials to accept the children - who agreed as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee provided for each one. He then set about fundraising and organizing the trip, arranging 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. Few saw their parents again. The largest evacuation was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany. That ninth train never left Prague, and almost none of the 250 children trying to flee that day survived the war. Winton's story did not emerge until 1988, when his wife 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. "Everything that happened before the war actually didn't feel important in the light of the war itself." Winton's wife persuaded him to have his story officially documented. A film about Winton's heroism won an International Emmy Award in 2002, and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair praised him as "Britain's Schindler," after the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who also saved Jewish lives during the war. Winton rejected the comparison, and the description of himself as a hero. Unlike Schindler, he said, his life had never been in danger. But for many of those he saved, he is unambiguously a hero. It is estimated there are 5,000 people around the world who owe their lives to Winton - the children he saved and their descendants. The children saved by Winton include the late film director Karel Reisz; Joe Schlesinger, a one-time Associated Press translator who became one of the Canada's most prominent TV journalists; and British lawmaker and peer Alfred Dubs. "He doesn't think that what he did was a big deal," said Marianne Wolfson, 85, who traveled from her home in Chicago to take the train journey from Prague. "But we got our life back."