Hampstead Holocaust hero honoured in film

A HERO from Hampstead who saved hundreds of children from Nazi persecution has returned to the area to speak to about his remarkable life

Katie Davies

A HERO from Hampstead who saved hundreds of children from Nazi persecution has returned to the area to speak to about his remarkable life.

Sir Nicholas Winton was a surprise guest at a screening of a film on his life at Hampstead Theatre.

Dozens of Holocaust survivors listened to Sir Nicholas speak about how he helped save 669 children escape the Nazis in Prague.

The modest grandfather, who describes how old he is as "very", was overcome by it all.

He said: "It's a nice thing after 70 years. The whole of my generation with the exception of my 93-year-old baby brother have died so my life really evolves around my adopted children. I can't tolerate the attention to be honest."

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Sir Nicholas was a lawyer in the 1930s who left Hampstead to go on a skiing holiday in Prague but returned with the aim of getting children out of the country and save them from the impending Nazi persecution.

He kept what he did a secret for years and it was only discovered when his wife stumbled across papers in the attic of his Willow Road home.

"There were about 5,000 to 6,000 parents trying to get their children out of there," he said. "When people are doing that you know there is danger.

"I met a British teacher and we went around the refugee camps together. He said to me if you go back to England and set this up I will run your Prague office. A lot of the money was put forward by the families in Prague themselves and the rest came through the magazine Picture Post."

Sir Nicholas contacted countries around the world but only Sweden and the UK would give the children refuge. He said if bigger countries, such as America, agreed to take the children twice as many would have been saved.

Throughout the period, charities in Prague set up lists of refugees trying to get their children out - including Jewish, communist and other groups on the Nazi blacklist.

Sir Nicholas said there were difficulties getting various groups to work together.

"There were five organisations trying to help those in danger from the Nazis. They all had separate lists. It wasn't difficult to make contact with them, but I told them I only wanted one list.

"When I got back to England I could find a family who wanted a seven-year-old but I didn't want to have to choose between a seven-year-old on one and one on another.

"I sent around a rumour that I was going to choose one organisation. It got around and so they all put together one list to work from."

The Hampstead Theatre event last Thursday was organised by West Hampstead-based charity the Association of Jewish Refugees.

A range of events is being held across the area this week to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday.