Winton Train to retrace route of kindertransport that saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish children

Photo: CTK

This Monday, Sir Nicholas Winton, the British stock exchange clerk who quietly saved more than 650 Czech Jewish children from the Holocaust and told no one for more than 50 years, turned 99. In Prague, the occasion was marked by representatives of Czech Railways as well as the Film Academy of Miroslav Ondříček in Písek. Together, they announced an ambitious new project called The Winton Train, which will retrace the route of the original Prague-London kindertransport which saved so many. Young filmmakers, inspired by Mr Winton’s deeds, will be among those who will take part in the journey.

Next year it will be 70 years since Sir Nicholas Winton, a former stock exchange clerk, helped 669 Jewish children escape Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, a deed he kept secret, even from his own wife, for almost half a century. She only discovered the truth in the late 1980s, coming upon an old briefcase in the attic containing lists of children’s names and letters from their parents. Ever since, Mr Winton’s story has gained worldwide attention and continues to inspire countless people, something organisers from Czech Railways and a film school in southern Bohemia now want to highlight. Throughout 2008, students at cooperating film schools across Europe and North America will work on productions either inspired by Mr Winton’s story or similar stories of sacrifice and selflessness in the world today. Olga Dabrowská is a professor at the Miroslav Ondříček Film Academy in Písek:

Photo: CTK
“All the final films will be screened at the Winton Fest organised by us together with the London Film Academy. Then they will also be screened at the student film festival in Písek and they will also be broadcast by Czech TV as well as other broadcasters in the European Union.”

The students, together with others, will then also take part in a re-enactment of the original kindertransports. Historic steam engines will travel from Prague, across Germany and the Netherlands before reaching London, where the final train will be met by Sir Winton himself. Wherever possible, Czech Railway organisers said on Monday, historic engines and railway cars will be used, although not always the originals. For example, the train leaving the Czech capital will be one loaned from Hungary, as suitable Czech trains from the period are no longer operational. Czech Railways’ Zbyněk Honys said on Monday the same idea would apply even across the English Channel:

Zbyněk Honys,  photo: CTK
“We are looking for a ferry from the period which could transport us across La Manche, as opposed to travelling through the Chunnel.”

If everything goes as planned, the Winton Train will leave Prague on September 1st, 2009 the anniversary of the original departure of the last kindertransports out of Czechoslovakia organised on the eve of the war by Mr Winton. On the occasion a plaque commemorating Mr Winton’s contribution will also be unveiled at Prague’s Main Station.