OPINION: Mazeltov on a great campaign, but Sir Nicky did not act alone

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OPINION: Mazeltov on a great campaign, but Sir Nicky did not act alone

Sir Nicholas Winton saved 669 children
Sir Nicholas Winton saved 669 children
Malcolm Roberts
Malcolm Finebaum

By Malcolm Finebaum

Congratulations to Jewish News and the 106,000 of us who supported its campaign calling for a stamp to be issued in honour of Sir Nicholas Winton.

This will be available next year. How I wish Jewish News would now launch a second campaign to honour the memory of two others without whom Sir Nicky’s work would have surely floundered.

The two people are Doreen Warriner (who died in 1972) and Trevor Chadwick (1979).

In September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler and agreed to allow the Sudetenland to be handed back to Germany. No Czech representative was at this meeting and Chamberlain returned waving that infamous piece of paper; it was called appeasement. Now the lives of many who had opposed Hitler would be at risk, the socialists, communists, intellectuals and, of course, the Jews. It is estimated that 200,000 refugees left their homes in the Sudetenland and fled.

English academic Doreen heard of the plight of these refugees and, like many others, felt Britain was in some way responsible. She arrived in Prague on 13 October, a city she knew and loved, determined to help.

With the help of Quakers, she quickly set up an office, from where she tried to arrange the escape of those most at risk. Her mission was to help adults.

Nicholas arrived in December, summoned by his close friend Martin Blake who had gone to Prague. Nicky was introduced to Doreen and at once realised that nobody was doing much for the children, especially the Jewish ones. This was long after Kristallnacht, so the world knew the Jews were vulnerable. Nicky knew he had to act and thought of the Kindertransport as a means of getting children out.

At this time, Trevor arrived in Prague to bring back two Jewish boys who were sponsored by the Forres School in Swanage – a school founded by his father and now headed by his uncle. He was met by Doreen, who introduced him to Nicky.

Trevor was so impressed he immediately offered to help, and returned after escorting the two boys back to England.

Nicky only spent three weeks in Prague, returning home with the task of obtaining visas, finding people willing to foster Jewish children and doing battle with the Home Office.

Trevor quit his teaching post and became Nicky’s main man in Prague. Trevor was the one who had pictures of the children sent to Nicky, he was the one who placated nervous parents, he was the one who accompanied each of the children to the station and calmed them, carrying the smallest and holding the hands of the very nervous ones. All this under the eyes of the armed and menacing German soldiers.

When the right documents hadn’t arrived from England in time for the departure, Trevor obtained forged papers and presented them to the Germans. Unlike Doreen and Trevor, who were there when the Germans were, Nicky never returned to Czechoslovakia until invited by President Havel to be honoured in 2007.

Doreen accompanied groups of wanted adults out of Czechoslovakia, often with forged papers. Both she and Trevor had to leave when the Gestapo were closing in on their forging network. She was made an OBE in 1941 in recognition of her work.

Trevor is the only one of the three who never received any honour or acknowledgement of his work in Prague.

When asked why he was the one upon whom so much praise was bestowed, Nicky said that he was the one who outlived the others. He never sought the fame that came his way.

Trevor and Doreen were not Jewish, and their acts of bravery and pure altruism deserve more, for their lives were truly at risk.

Nicky – a most remarkable man who held a pilot’s license, fenced for Great Britain and lived to 106 – was truly an outstanding individual and he always said there were others who were more deserving of credit than he was.

Doreen and specially Trevor deserve more recognition. Now is a perfect time to give it.

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