LONDON — He was just a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when he faced the challenge of a lifetime.
Traveling with a friend to Czechoslovakia in 1938, as the drums of impending war echoed around Europe, Nicholas Winton was hit by a key realization.
The country was in danger and no one was saving its Jewish children.
Winton would almost single-handedly save more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust, earning himself the label "Britain's Schindler." He died Wednesday at age 106 in a hospital near Maidenhead, his hometown west of London, his family said.
Winton arranged trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain, battling bureaucracy at both ends and saving them from almost certain death. He then kept quiet about his exploits for a half-century.
His daughter, Barbara, said she hoped her father would be remembered for his wicked sense of humor and charity work as well as his wartime heroism. And she hoped his legacy would be inspiring people to believe that even difficult things were possible.
"He believed that if there was something that needed to be done you should do it," she said. "Let's not spend too long agonizing about stuff. Let's get it done."
"[He] was a man who valued human life above all else, and there are those who are alive today who are testament to his dedication and sacrifice"
British Prime Minister David Cameron said "the world has lost a great man." Jonathan Sacks, Britain's former chief rabbi, said Winton "was a giant of moral courage and determination, and he will be mourned by Jewish people around the world."
In Israel, President Reuven Rivlin said Winton will be remembered as a hero from "those darkest of times."
"[He] was a man who valued human life above all else, and there are those who are alive today who are testament to his dedication and sacrifice," Rivlin said.
Winton persuaded British officials to accept children, as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee was paid for each one to ensure they had enough money to return home later. At the time, their stays were only expected to be temporary.
Setting himself up as the one-man children's section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton set about finding homes and guarantors, drawing up lists of about 6,000 children, publishing pictures to encourage British families to agree to take them.
In the months before the outbreak of World War II, eight trains carried children from Czechoslovakia through Germany to Britain. In all, Winton got 669 children out.
The children from Prague were among some 10,000 mostly Jewish children who made it to Britain on what were known as the Kindertransports (children's transports). Few of them would see their parents again.
Although many more Jewish children were saved from Berlin and Vienna, those operations were better organized and better financed. Winton's operation was unique because he worked almost alone.
Several of the children he saved grew up to have prominent careers, including filmmaker Karel Reisz, British politician Alf Dubs and Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger.
Still, he rejected the description of himself as a hero, insisting that unlike Schindler, his own life had never been in danger.
"At the time, everybody said, 'Isn't it wonderful what you've done for the Jews? You saved all these Jewish people,'" Winton said. "When it was first said to me, it came almost as a revelation. Because I didn't do it particularly for that reason. I was there to save children."
Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 and also honored in the Czech Republic, where last year he received the country's highest state honor, the Order of the White Lion. "He was a person I admired for his personal bravery," said Czech President Milos Zeman.
Winton's wife Grete died in 1999. He is survived by his daughter Barbara, his son Nick and several grandchildren.