Image: Nicholas Winton
Kirsty Wigglesworth  /  AP
Sir Nicholas Winton, center, who organized a rescue of Jewish children 70 years ago, welcomes a vintage train carrying Holocaust survivors at London's Liverpool Street station as it ends a three-day trip across Europe that marked the anniversary of the event.
updated 9/4/2009 9:00:37 AM ET 2009-09-04T13:00:37

A vintage train carrying Holocaust survivors pulled into London on Friday, ending a three-day trip across Europe that marked the 70th anniversary of their extraordinary rescue by a young British stockbroker.

Waiting to greet them at London's Liverpool Street Station was Sir Nicholas Winton, 100, who organized the rail "kindertransports" that carried hundreds of mostly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to safety in 1939.

The steam train carried 170 people, including about two dozen survivors of the evacuations and members of their families.

Winton, frail and leaning on a stick, shook hands with the former evacuees as they stepped off the train from Prague.

"It's wonderful to see you all after 70 years," he said. "Don't leave it quite so long until we meet here again."

Other Holocaust survivors had gathered at the station to meet the train.

"It's amazing. It happened so many years ago yet I remember it so vividly," said Otto Deutsch, 81, who lives in Southend, southern England. "I never saw my parents again or my sister. My parents were shot and what they did with my sister I really don't want to know."

Foster program
In late 1938, Winton, a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange, had traveled to what was then Czechoslovakia at the invitation of a friend working at the British Embassy.

Alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland region recently annexed by Germany, Winton immediately began organizing a way to get Jewish children out of the country. He feared, correctly, that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents would be sent to concentration camps.

Winton persuaded British officials to accept the children and set about fundraising and organizing the trip. He arranged eight trains that carried 669 mostly Jewish children through Germany to Britain in the months before the outbreak of World War II.

The youngsters were sent to foster homes in England, and a few to Sweden. None saw their parents again.

The largest evacuation was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, the day that Britain declared war on Germany. That ninth train was never allowed to leave Prague, and almost none of the 250 children trying to flee that day survived the war.

Story buried until 1988
Winton's story did not emerge until 1988, when his wife found correspondence referring to the prewar events.

"My wife didn't know about it for 40 years after our marriage, but there are all kinds of things you don't talk about even with your family," Winton said in 1999. "Everything that happened before the war actually didn't feel important in the light of the war itself."

Winton's wife persuaded him to have his story officially documented. A film about Winton's heroism won an International Emmy Award in 2002, and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair praised him as "Britain's Schindler," after the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who also saved Jewish lives during the war.

Winton rejected the comparison and the description of himself as a hero. Unlike Schindler, he said, his life had never been in danger.

He has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and honored in the Czech Republic. A statue of Winton was unveiled at Prague's central station before the train left on Tuesday.

The passengers traveled from Prague to The Netherlands in vintage German and Hungarian railway coaches pulled by 1930s steam locomotives. After crossing the North Sea by ferry — just like they did 70 years ago — they completed the journey in a refurbished British steam train.

More on: Holocaust

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