Photo: The surnames of children Nicholas Winton brought to Britain
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To help Jewish children in Czechoslovakia, the Children’s Section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia had been formed immediately after the German annexation of the Sudetenland. Although these children were not then in danger, it was felt that their situation inside independent Czechoslovakia was precarious enough to warrant a rescue effort. Some were refugees from Sudetenland. Some were orphans. In mid-October 1938 the Children’s Section had set up an office in Prague, headed by a British woman, Doreen Warriner. On December 20 a master from Westminster School, Martin Blake, travelled to Prague to help her. He persuaded a twenty-nine-year-old stockbroker, Nicholas Winton, the Christian scion of a distinguished German Jewish family, to go with him.
The surnames of children Nicholas Winton brought to Britain
Winton returned to Britain at the end of January 1939 to take charge of the London office. On March 7 a British schoolteacher, Trevor Chadwick, flew to Prague to expedite the rescue efforts; a week later, on March 14, he accompanied the first group of Jewish children, twenty in all, to Britain, by air. “They were all cheerfully sick,” he later recalled, being enticed by the little paper bags, “except a baby of one who slept peacefully in my lap the whole time.” On the following day, German forces entered Prague.
Chadwick’s office in Prague, helped by the Children’s Section in London, headed by Nicholas Winton, brought a total of 669 children from German-occupied Prague to Britain, in eight separate journeys. The first group after the occupation left Prague on April 19, with thirty-six children. Some children were able to travel privately. Fourteen-year-old Rudolf Wessely’s father was, until the German occupation, the Secretary of the Prague Produce Exchange, and a judge at the Arbitration Court. On March 21 he appealed to friends in Britain to guarantee his son, who was found a home in Britain, arriving in London on July 1. But despite the offers of the judge and his wife “to do any work” in Britain, even to take domestic posts despite their “former social standing,” no places could be found for them.
Excerpt from Kristallnacht, Prelude to Destruction