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A giant of moral courage... the reluctant hero who saved 669 children from the Holocaust; UK'S SCHINDLER DIES AT 106.

Byline: RACHAEL BLETCHLY Chief Feature writer

HE saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazi gas chambers and was dubbed the British Oskar Schindler. But Sir Nicholas Winton, who has died at the age of 106, never saw himself as a hero.

So for 50 years he did not tell a soul how he organised trains to ferry terrified youngsters from Czechoslovakia to Britain and settled them with foster families as the Second World War loomed. And he certainly never discussed the documents he faked to get the children passports and snatch them from certain slaughter in Hitler's death camps.

Sir Nicholas, "Nicky" to his family, did not even tell his own wife Grete until she discovered an old briefcase in the attic containing lists of children, photos and letters from their parents.

It was only when his family took the documents to Esther Rantzen and That's Life in 1988 that the remarkable story of Nicky's Children could be told. Sir Nicholas was persuaded to go to a recording of the show - only to find himself in the audience with many of the children whose lives he had saved.

One of them, Labour Peer Lord Alf Dubs, now 83, was just six when his mother put him on one of Nicky's trains. Luckily his parents survived but other family members died in Auschwitz.

The ex Labour MP is convinced that, just as German businessman Schindler did for 1,200 Jews, Sir Nicholas saved him saved from the Holocaust.

Yesterday he said: "His legacy is that when there is a need for you to do something for your fellow human beings, you have got to do it.

"He showed that with enough determination and will it can be done. I think he saw the situation in Prague and felt he had to do something."

Last night Prime Minister David Cameron led a torrent of tributes from politicians and religious leaders to the unassuming hero.

Mr Cameron said: "The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton's humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust."

Home Secretary Theresa May, MP for Sir Nicholas's home town of Maidenhead, Berks, said: "He was a hero of the 20th century. Against the odds, he almost single-handedly rescued hundreds of children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazis - an enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times."

And ex-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said: "He was the British Schindler, all the more impressive for thinking there was nothing special about what he did, seeking neither honour nor recognition. He was a giant of moral courage and determination who will be mourned by Jews all over the world."

Sir Nicholas was a 29-year-old stockbroker when he arrived in Prague just after Christmas in1938. He had planned to ski but was persuaded to join a humanitarian mission helping Jewish refugees cross the border from Nazi Germany. He met parents desperate for their kids to be taken abroad to safety and began compiling a list of names.

He said later: "I'd always been drawn to lost causes but believed that there must be a way to solve the problem."

Sir Nicholas worked tirelessly to arrange trains to London for hundreds of evacuees, even faking paperwork to get them passports in time. The first train left Prague on March 14, the day before German troops marched into Czechoslovakia. He returned to Britain to mastermind the rescue mission and find British families willing to put up the then huge sum of PS50 (PS2,500 in today's money) and agree to look after the youngsters until they were 17.

Name tags around their necks, the bewildered children arrived at Liverpool Street Station where Sir Nicholas and his mother greeted them. One was Ruth Halova, 91, called him "an exceptional human being. We loved him from the first moment. Who wouldn't?" In total, eight trains reached London. The ninth did not. It had been set to leave on September 1, carrying 250 children, the largest number yet, but Germany invaded Poland and all borders were closed. It is thought nearly all the children due to leave that day ended up in Auschwitz with 1.1 million other Czech Jews.

Sir Nicholas said it was his greatest regret. "If it had gone a day earlier they would have been saved. It was an awful feeling." But hundreds did survive - and today some 6,000 people are descendants of Nicky's Children. After the war he worked for the UN's International Refugee Organisation, supervising the disposal of items looted by Nazis.

Among the jewellery, furs, china and artworks were horrific reminders of the fate that had befallen so many Jews: crates of false teeth and gold fillings removed from corpses in the gas chambers. His job involved sorting which items could be sold, with the money going to help war victims, and those deemed worthless.

The latter were disposed of at sea, in a ceremony Sir Nicholas oversaw. He was keenly aware that each "worthless" item was a part of someone's history.

In 2003, the Queen knighted him for services to humanity and he won a Lifetime Achievement honour at the Daily Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards.

Mjh Modest as ever he said: "I just worked to do what I had to do."

Statues of him now stand at Maidenhead, Liverpool Street and Prague rail station.

Last year he returned to Prague to be admitted to the Czech Order Of Tt Tch The White Lion, the country's greatest honour.

Sir nicholas died peacefully yesterday with his daughter Barbara and ph two grandchildren at his side.

It was exactly 76 years to the day since a train carrying 241 children he had saved departed from Prague.

rachael.bletchly@mirror.co.uk

VOICE OF THE MIRROR: PAGE 8

When there is a need for you to do something, you have to do it LORD DUBS ON THE LEGACY OF SIR NICHOLAS

CAPTION(S):

LOVING ARMS Nicholas holding a refugee

GREAT MAN Receiving his 2003 Pride of Britain award

TRIBUTE Prague statue

RESCUED Some of the 669 saved

KISS One of those helped by Nicky
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Jul 2, 2015
Words:1027
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