Waiting for Winton: rail station pays tribute to British hero

Nicholas Winton, photo: Martina Schneibergová

Another tribute has been paid to Sir Nicolas Winton, the British man who helped to save 669, mostly Jewish children, from Czechoslovakia prior to the outbreak of World War II. On Tuesday, a lounge at Prague’s Main Train Station was named after Mr Winton, who died in July 2015 at the age of 106.

Nicholas Winton,  photo: Martina Schneibergová
Among those attending the ceremonial opening of the Winton lounge at Prague’s Main Train Station on Tuesday were four of the so-called Winton children, who escaped death in Nazi gas chambers when they were sent abroad from Czechoslovakia shortly before the outbreak of WWII. One of them was Zuzana Marešová, who later told me that coming to the station was like coming back home:

“There are so many things that remind me of Nicky. First of all, it was our departure 78 years ago, then, almost ten years ago, they dispatched a train from here which followed the same track as the first trains did. Then it was his statue on the platform and not long ago, in May, we unveiled the memorial to our parents. So when I heard this lounge was supposed to be in his name, I was very pleased, because I felt this whole railway station almost belongs to him.”

The memorial to the parents of the Winton children, recognizing their bravery in putting them on ‘kindertransport’ trains to London, was erected at the Main Train Station not far from where the trains were dispatched.

Milena Grenfell-Baines,  Zuzana Marešová,  photo: Martina Schneibergová
The memorial is a replica of one of the original train wagon doors with a glass pane on which are engraved adult and child hands evoking scenes of the parting.

At the event on Tuesday, Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, one of the Jewish children saved by Sir Nicholas Winton, presented a miniature version of the memorial to a representative of Czech Railways.

“Knowing Nicky, he always used to say that he wasn’t the only person who did this. And I think maybe if he knew this was happening, he might have even stayed at home. He was a very modest person. He didn’t like fuss and he wished that other people who helped him were also mentioned. So he would be very pleased, and certainly his family is very pleased, but as to actually taking part, that is debatable.”

As to her own memories of the departure from Prague’s train station 78 years ago, Mrs Grenfell Baines says it is hard to distinguish between personal and collective memories:

“Quite honestly, I hardly have any memory of it at all. After all, I was nine, it was 1939, and because there are a number of us who talk about this, we often wonder whether we are repeating other people’s memories, or our own. But hand on heart, I really can’t remember being on that train.”