Yes, I hugged a statue! Happily hugged it, but with tears in my eyes. Why? It actually is a very long story, so I will try to shorten it for this blog.
The Statue is of Sir Nicholas Winton, an Englishman. Telling the story backwards might help understand why I wanted to know more about him.
I read in a newspaper, the name of which I no longer remember, about a group of people making a trip in 2009, from Prague to London. It was to be in tribute to Winton. Who were these people and why was it making the news?
The people making the journey were the direct descendants of the Jewish children known as Winton’s Children. Sir Winton saved 699 mainly Jewish children on this same route in 1939.
Why would a twenty-nine year old Englishman organize such a brave act during WW2? That is the question that I asked.
First off, he was a Christian British stockbroker of German Jewish descent. As a humanitarian he was aware of the official Kindertransports being organized in other countries and found out none were organized in the then Czechoslovakia.
On the way to Switzerland for a skiing trip Winton stopped in Prague to visit a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work. He never took the ski trip, instead he decided to stay in Prague. He wanted to help save the children.
The first thing Winton had to do was organize foster homes in England which was difficult as England was already receiving many refugees. He had to organize trains. He had to find money. He had to carefully plan to ensure everyone’s safety.
Almost all the children left before the war broke out and it was with great relief that they made it through to London and their host parents. That is. . . they all made it but one train; it was stopped as the war had started and the children were taken to concentration camps. Sir Winton says it still haunts him to this day that those children did not make it to safety.
So why in 2009 did a tribute train make the same trip? It is a very heart warming story.
The following is from Wikipedia: Winton kept his humanitarian exploits under wraps for many years until his wife Greta found a detailed scrapbook in the attic in 1988. The scrapbook contained lists of the children, including their parents’ names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. After sending letters to these addresses, 80 of “Winton’s children” were found living in Britain.
The world found out about Winton’s work in 1988 on a television programme titled That’s Life! when Winton was invited to be an audience member. At one point during the programme Winton’s scrapbook was shown, and his achievements explained. The host of the programme then asked if there was anyone in the audience who owed their lives to Winton and if so to stand — at which point over 2 dozen audience members surrounding Winton rose and applauded.
That event brought forth the desire to make the same journey as a tribute to Sir Winton and became the focus of an awareness project known as ‘Inspiration through Goodness’, organized by the Czech government.
In 2009 an original locomotive from the 1930’s left the Prague Main train station. On board were some of the original children, their grandchildren and 101 year old Sir Winton! It was an emotional trip taken in gratitude and love for the man who cared enough to save them. If it were not for him their children and all their future children would never be born.
We read that a statue was placed in the Prague Main station so we went to find it. It was not an easy statue to find. We almost gave up. Because there is now a modern train station we did not realize the tracks for trains still leave the original old station.
We could not find it for some time, when I suddenly saw it, standing on Platform B. Sir Winton and his children getting ready to leave!
I could not help myself. . . I saw him, and I had to put my arms around him and give him a big hug! It is life size, he was not much taller than me but he is a HUGE hero to many and will never be forgotten.