“Would those whose lives depended on Nicholas Winton, please stand up.”
You may remember these words from Esther Rantzen famously uttered on her show ‘That’s Life’ in 1989. They were heard again from the same lips at the Guildhall in London last week. There must have been over 100 people who stood on that request – survivors and families of those who were rescued from almost certain annihilation under the Nazis. Winton, or ‘Nicky’ as everyone who knew him so called the great man, organised the Kindertransport of Czech and Slovak children, mostly Jewish. His act of courage and tenacity led to the salvation of 669 children who were allowed into the UK but without the care of their parents (most of whom were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust).
Organised by his children Barbara and Nick, the memorial service paid tribute to the very English gentleman who died last July at the remarkable age of 106. A pretty full house at the historic Guildhall enjoyed (and that is the right word here), anecdotes and happy memories of the man. One Kindertransport veteran remembered Nicky, age 104, eagerly accepting the controls of a two-seater plane as it reached cruising height. His son-in-law Steve, reminded us that Nicky’s favourite mantra was that ‘if it is not impossible, there must be a way to do it.’ This was the driving motivation for his one-man campaign to save the children from the clutches of the murderous Nazis.
A picture was painted of a quiet yet determined man, one who had a zest for life and a belief in the future. I remember him at a birthday bash when he was 103, he thanked his audience for their good wishes but stood up and said, “There is too much looking back, I believe in always looking to the future.” It was this kind of thinking, said Nick Winton, that probably assured him of a very long and active life.
I remember first seeing him at his home in Maidenhead. We knocked at his front door but there was no answer. What had happened to the 99 year-old? After what seemed like an age, the door opened and there he was, Nicky Winton complete with gardening gloves and a pair of secateurs. He apologised for not hearing the bell but had been busy in the back garden weeding.
One of the most inspiring speakers at the Guildhall last Thursday, was Lord Alf Dubs. A Kindertransport veteran himself, the wonderfully energetic octogenarian, eyes a-twinkling, had some lovely memories of Nicky but we were also reminded of his own recent victory in persuading the government to allow 3000 unaccompanied child refugees from Syria into the country. This surely is another powerful legacy of the man who thought that anything was possible – if it isn’t actually impossible.