Daughter of “British Schindler” dies aged 68

Barbara Winton

Barbara Winton, daughter of the late Sir Nicholas Winton, devoted much of her life to sharing the story of how her father, as a young man aged only 29, helped to organise the transport of 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II, thereby saving them from almost certain death in Nazi concentration camps. Now she herself has passed away, but her father’s legacy still lives on.

Sir Nicholas Winton lived to the quite remarkable age of 106, before passing away peacefully in his sleep on 1 July 2015, 76 years to the day since one of the Kindertransport trains he helped organise, containing 241 children, departed from Prague.

Sir Nicholas Winton with his daughter Barbara | Photo: Jiří Hošek,  Czech Radio

Unfortunately, his daughter, Barbara Winton, did not live to such a venerable age. Her family announced that she had passed away on Tuesday at the age of 68 after a long illness.

During her lifetime, Barbara had been committed to spreading her father’s message of kindness and hope, as she said in this interview for Radio Prague back in 2018.

“I guess I think that one of the important things about life is that people have a decent standard of living, if possible, and that they’re kind to people around them. I always get distressed when I listen to rhetoric that pits people against each other, because I don’t think anybody gets the best from that situation. It would be nice if the language people used about others was kinder.”

Barbara aimed to inspire others to positive action with her father’s example, telling his story in a book published in 2014, through speeches at lectures and conferences in the UK, USA and the Czech Republic, and via a website showcasing material from her father’s archives. After the launch of the website in 2021, Barbara spoke to Radio Prague once again.

 Winton's monument at Prague's main railway station | Photo: Jan Rosenauer,  Radio Prague International

“The idea of promoting his story in the way that we do is to remind people that this is how an individual got involved and went about doing something significant. Really it’s a kind of how-to manual as well: How do you go about it? Well, you see a problem, you make sure you understand what the problem is, you get a sense that this is really not right – and then you gather around you a group of people who agree with you and you go for it.”

Barbara came to Czechia several times, accompanying her father on his trips when he was alive and continuing to visit the country after his death. She gave talks at Czech secondary schools and regularly attended the Forum 2000 conference. Her biography of her father, titled ‘If it's Not Impossible...The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton’, was also translated into Czech. The book was released on his 105th birthday and she presented him with the first copy at a launch party at the Czech Embassy in London.

One of the more remarkable things about her father’s story is that it went largely unrecognised for almost 50 years. It was only in 1988, when the story, including a heartwarming meeting with some of the children he had helped to rescue and their descendants, was featured in the BBC TV programme “That's Life!”, that it finally reached the wider public. Barbara told Radio Prague in 2018 that until that moment, not even her family had really grasped the full extent of what her father had done.

“None of us, including him, understood the implications of it until we began to meet the children themselves. Then it stopped being historical information and became about living people and their lives.”

Even more remarkably, most of the children Winton rescued still don’t know that they owe their lives to him. According to the BBC, of the 669 children saved from the gas chambers by Winton's efforts, more than 370 have never been traced – and may not even know the full circumstances behind how they survived the war.

Barbara’s website aims to help people who suspect that they or their family members may have been on one of the eight trains that Winton helped organise from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to Britain, by making the archive materials publicly available so they can look for their names and find out for sure.

After the 1988 programme was broadcast, Winton became something of a hero and the UK press dubbed him the "British Schindler". Barbara helped to maintain contact with the "Winton children" in the years that followed and demanded that the world do more for refugees.

Although, according to her son, Barbara felt that she was leaving the world too soon, she certainly left her mark on it, and helped to ensure that her father’s legacy will continue to outlive them both.