Sir Nicholas Winton, who organized the rescue and rehoming of nearly 700 mostly Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, has died at an astounding 106 years of age, the BBC reports. According to family and friends, Sir Winton died peacefully in his sleep at a hospital in Berkshire, daughter and two grandchildren at his side.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to pass on, nor a man more deserving of such a tranquil exit. After all, several hundred Czech-born Britons—many of whom are still alive today—owe their lives to the brave efforts of this man.
Aside from the actual deed, known now as the Czech Kindertransport, what was perhaps most admirable about Sir Winton was his unassuming nature. For arguably one of the most heroic acts of the 20th century, he took no bows. In fact, he kept the operation largely a secret for more than half his life, telling not even his wife or children.
“Sir Nicholas Winton was a hero of the 20th century,” said British home secretary Theresa May, also MP for Sir Winton’s home district of Maidenhead. “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. Because of his modesty, this astonishing contribution only came to light many years later.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until a 1988 episode of the BBC’s “That’s Life” that Sir Winton’s heroism become publicly known. In this touching clip, “Britain’s Schindler” realizes he is seated among dozens of the very Czech-born Britons he rescued in 1939:
But more than humility, the true legacy of Sir Winton is the power of action, of propelling one’s convictions toward real change. His son Nick told the BBC that Sir Winton’s legacy is “about encouraging people to make a difference and not waiting for something to be done or waiting for someone else to do it.”
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