“His story is a how-to manual”: New Winton website launched
A freshly launched website celebrates the legacy of Sir Nicholas Winton, who in 1939 saved 669 mainly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia by helping them get to his native UK. The site showcases a wealth of material from the Sir Nicholas Winton Memorial Trust – and of course introduces visitors to his inspirational story. I discussed the website with his daughter, Barbara Winton.
“The motivation really was that my family – my husband, two children and I – put together a trust to hold my father’s archives.
“My father’s archives are quite extensive. They include original documentation, copies of the original stuff that’s now in Yad Vasham, all his awards, photographs, audio-visual stuff – so a lot of material.
“My intention was to catalogue that and to make that catalogue available online. So I set off down that path.
“And early last year I realised that this was a task that may never get finished [laughs].
“I thought that it was important that there was something for people, as soon as possible, that was visible online and that they could use to explore at least some of the archive.
“So that was the reason why I stopped the cataloguing and went onto this showcasing of elements of the archive, as illustrations of his life.”
Tell us about the copy of the list of children who were brought to the UK on the Kindertransport. That’s really powerful – you see the original document that was used at that time.
“Well, that in fact has been online on the original website we had for many years.
“The idea of it really was to allow people who had some suspicion that perhaps their parent or grandparent or relative had come to England on the Kindertransport a way of investigating that and proving or disproving it.
“The reason it’s perhaps a bit easier to find your way through is really just the redesigning of that site.
“I suppose I get, I don’t know, one or two emails a month from people who have gone on there and found a link to one of their relatives that they hadn’t been aware of before.
“So it’s been a very useful resource for people to at least make that initial recognition that they, or their parent or grandparent, came that route.”
I’ve seen you say that you hope the website will inspire future generations to go out and help those in need. It’s over 30 years now since your father’s story first became known in the UK – do you find that there is much interest in his story from younger people today?
“Very much so. The Kindertransport story is used in this country as an introduction in schools to talking about the Holocaust.
“It’s a less traumatic way into that part of the history.
“And young people are very interested in history that features young people.
“They can identify, they can imagine what it was like to be in that position.
“So yes, I think schoolchildren particularly are fascinated by the story, because it’s something that they can identify with.
“And what you said about the reasoning for it – as you know from talking to me before, my father was not particularly interested in talking about history for its own sake.
“He thought that people didn’t learn from history and it wouldn’t change what would happen today or tomorrow to talk about the past.
“And really 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.
“That’s kind of what the exhibition in a sense is about.
“It’s about one man and how he took that road, in a way hopefully encouraging other people – that if they feel strongly about something they could follow that kind of path.”
I also wanted to ask you – what did you think of the recently published book by Petr Sís, Nicky & Vera [telling the story of Nicholas Winton and one of the children he saved, Vera Gissing]?
“It’s lovely. I’ve been sent a copy by Petr Sís in America, because he used a photo from the archive in the back of the book of my father on a motorbike, and he wanted permission for that.
“I thought it was very brave to address a story like that to such young children.
“But I think when I saw the book and I recognised – I didn’t know his work before, I have to admit – how beautiful his artwork is, how carefully he presents the information…
“But not only that – there were the small details that he put in, which really many people wouldn’t pick up on.
“I picked up on a lot of them, because he had read my biography of my father.
“So there were little details in there, about him keeping pigeons and his fencing and so on, that many people reading it now wouldn’t necessarily pick up on.
“But for me it demonstrated how much care he had taken to think through the story and how he was going to highlight the bits that were important.”