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September 5, 2009

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Holocaust survivors greet a hero

A VINTAGE steam train carrying Holocaust survivors pulled into London yesterday, ending a three-day trip across Europe that marked the 70th anniversary of their extraordinary rescue by a young British stockbroker.

Waiting to greet them at Liverpool Street Station was Nicholas Winton, age 100, who organized the rail "kindertransports" that carried hundreds of mostly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to safety in 1939.

The train carried 170 people, including about two dozen survivors of the evacuations and members of their families.

Winton, frail and leaning on a stick, shook hands with the former evacuees as they stepped off the train from Prague. "It's wonderful to see you all after 70 years," he said. "Don't leave it quite so long until we meet here again."

Other Holocaust survivors had gathered at the station to meet the train.

"I remember it so vividly," said Otto Deutsch, 81, who lives in Southend, southern England. "I never saw my parents again or my sister. My parents were shot and what they did with my sister I really don't want to know."

In late 1938, Winton, a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange, had traveled to what was then Czechoslovakia 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, Winton immediately began organizing a way to get Jewish children out of the country. He feared, correctly, that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents would be sent to concentration camps.

Winton persuaded British officials to accept the children, as long as foster homes could be found, and set about fund raising and organizing the trip.

He arranged eight trains that carried 669 mostly Jewish children through Germany to Britain in the months before the outbreak of World War II.


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