On 15 November 1938, five days after the devastation of ‘Kristallnacht’ in Germany, a delegation of British, Jewish, and Quaker leaders appealed, in person, to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain.
Among other measures, they requested that the British government permit the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children, without their parents.
The Cabinet debated the issue the next day and subsequently prepared a Bill to present to the United Kingdom’s Parliament.
That Bill stated that the government would waive certain immigration requirements so as to allow the entry into Great Britain of unaccompanied children ranging from infants up to the age of 17. No limit upon the permitted number of refugees was ever publicly announced.
The first party of nearly 200 children arrived in England on 2 December, three weeks after ‘Kristallnacht’. In the following nine months almost 10.000 unaccompanied, mainly Jewish, children travelled to England.
The last transport from the continent, with 74 children, left on the passenger-freighter SS Bodegraven on 14 May 1940, from IJmuiden, Netherlands.
It was traumatic for the parents to send the children into the unknown and for an uncertain time; and traumatic for at least the younger children to be separated from their parents.
At school, the English children would often view the children as enemy Germans instead of as Jewish refugees, and treat them badly, as the enemy – this surely was traumatic.
The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust.
Before Christmas 1938, a 29-year-old British stockbroker of German-Jewish origin named Nicholas Winton planned to fly to Switzerland for a ski vacation when he decided to travel to Prague instead to help a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work.
He established an organisation to aid Jewish children from Czechoslovakia separated from their families by the Nazis, setting up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square. He ultimately found homes for 669 children.
It has been reported that Nicholas Winton suppressed his humanitarian exploits for many years.
His rescue achievements went unnoticed for half a century until in 1988 his wife found a detailed scrapbook in their attic, containing lists of the children, including their parents’ names and the names and addresses of the families that took them in.
Nicholas Winton died in his sleep on the morning of 1 July 2015 at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough. He was 106 years old.