Remembering 'Britain's Schindler'
ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
Many people around the world are mourning the death of Sir Nicholas Winton this week at the age of 106. Winton is credited with saving the lives of 669 children, most of them Jews, by organizing their escape from what was then Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II. In 1938, Nicholas Winton was a 29-year-old British stockbroker. He was preparing to take a skiing vacation, but a friend who was aiding Jewish refugees convinced Winton to join him. He flew to Czechoslovakia and later described that moment to CBS News's "60 Minutes."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")
SIR NICHOLAS WINTON: I went out into the camps where the people who had been displaced were put, and it was winter and it was cold.
WESTERVELT: Jews in Czechoslovakia then were facing increased hostility and danger. So Winton helped to organize eight trains full of Jewish children that would head to England. All but one train made it through. Winton told very few people about his humanitarian work, not even his wife knew. But 50 years later, she discovered a scrapbook of the names and photos of children, and she let the world know his story. Joining us to speak about Nicholas Winton's legacy is Alice Masters, one of the hundreds he helped to escape. Alice Masters, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us.
ALICE MASTERS: Thank you. Thank you.
WESTERVELT: I understand you were just 14 years old when your parents decided to send you and your two sisters away from then Czechoslovakia aboard one of the trains organized by Winton. Tell us how they came to that decision.
MASTERS: Well, it was really a miracle that it happened because my parents would not have heard of Winton if it hadn't been for my mother's younger brother, who lived in Berlin during the '30s and was a representative of a Slovak spa. And when things got very bad, he was transferred to England, and he heard about Winton. My uncle wrote to my parents and urged them to get out if possible, but if they cannot get out, he told them to at least send the children away. We lived in a very small village in the eastern part of Slovakia, and people didn't expect that anything would happen there. And all my parents' friends told them you are making a terrible mistake. Nothing is going to happen here, tut my parents listened to what my uncle said and sent us on the transport.
WESTERVELT: What did your parents tell you about the trip you'd be making?
MASTERS: Well, first of all, Czechoslovakia was occupied in March 1939, so we lived under the occupation for a few months. So we knew exactly what was going on and we also saw the fear in our friends' and neighbors' faces. They were panicked. They didn't know what was going to happen to them. So we saw - as children we understood what was going on, but our parents decided that they are going to send us away, and they called us and told us we are going to London until it blows over.
WESTERVELT: And your parents didn't make it out.
MASTERS: No, none of them. My parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, cousins, friends, none of them survived.
WESTERVELT: How did you first hear about Nicholas Winton?
MASTERS: It took 50 years before we found out about Winton. After the war nobody wanted to hear about the Holocaust. And nobody wanted to talk about it or - he apparently wanted to give his papers to an institution or somewhere and nobody wanted them. So he put them away and then he didn't talk about it and he didn't tell his wife. And after 50 years, one of the Kindertransports - children - arranged a reunion in London. Five hundred children turned up for this reunion and that's where we met Winton. He came to the reunion and this is the first time any of us knew about his existence.
WESTERVELT: Miss Masters, what was it like meeting Winton at this Kindertransport reunion?
MASTERS: It was just marvelous. We were all just thrilled to see him and he was just very happy to see us also. And ever since then we have been in close contact with him. We had many get-togethers, and I have many letters that he has written to me.
WESTERVELT: The children Winton saved and their descendants now number more than 6,000. What do you tell your family about Winton and this chapter in your life?
MASTERS: My sisters and I have several children and we have a lot of grandchildren and we owe their lives to Winton.
WESTERVELT: Alice Masters, one of the children Nicholas Winton saved. He died this week at the age of 106. Ms. Masters, thank you so much for speaking with us.
MASTERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.