LONDON — Elderly Holocaust survivors were reunited at a London railway station Friday with the man who saved them on the eve of World War II — a now 100-year-old former stockbroker who rescued hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the rescue, a vintage train carrying some two dozen survivors along with members of their families, pulled into London's Liverpool Street Station on Friday after a three-day journey by rail and ferry from the Czech capital, Prague.
Winton, whose parents were of German Jewish descent, was a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when he traveled to what was then Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1938 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, the young man feared — correctly — that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents would be sent to concentration camps.
He immediately began organizing a way to get Jewish children out of the country.
Winton persuaded British officials to accept the children — as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee was paid for each one — and set about fundraising and organizing the trip. He arranged eight trains to carry children through Germany to Britain in the months before the outbreak of war.
The youngsters were sent to foster homes in England, and a few to Sweden. Few saw their parents again.
The largest evacuation was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany. That train never left, and almost none of the 250 children trying to flee that day survived the war.
Winton never spoke about the heroic rescue, not even to his wife, and his story did not emerge until 1988, when she found correspondence referring to the prewar events.
Winton's wife persuaded him to have his story documented, and a film about his heroism, "Nicholas Winton — The Power of Good," won an International Emmy Award in 2002.
He was 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.
But for many of those he saved, he is unambiguously a hero. It is estimated there are 5,000 people around the world who owe their lives to Winton — the children he saved and their descendants.