Rail evacuees retrace their Shoah escape

Just a suitcase and a doll: a girl takes part in the Prague re-enactment of the Kinderstransport evacuation

Just a suitcase and a doll: a girl takes part in the Prague re-enactment of the Kinderstransport evacuation

Dozens of Holocaust survivors this week retraced the journey that saved their lives 70 years ago.

They travelled by train from the Czech Republic to London, remembering the efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton, who in 1939 arranged eight Kindertransport trains, saving 669 Czech children.

Among the 170 people who left Prague’s main station on Tuesday morning were 22 of “Winton’s children” and 64 descendants of those saved by him. He was knighted for his rescue mission.

They travelled 1,500km via Nuremberg, Cologne and the Dutch port of Hook van Holland, and were due to be welcomed into London’s Liverpool Street Station this morning [Friday] by 100-year-old Sir Nicholas and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis.

A life-size statue of Sir Nicholas, made by London-based artist Flor Kent, was also unveiled in the Czech capital as part of the event, depicting him with a child in his arms.

Then a 29-year-old stockbroker, Sir Nicholas travelled to Prague in December 1938, three months after Hitler annexed the border region of Sudetenland.

Recognising the danger posed by the Nazis, he decided to mount his rescue mission after visiting refugee camps and discovering there was no organised relief effort for the children there.

He persuaded the Home Office to open the UK’s doors, and between March and August 1939, 669 Czech youngsters — most of them Jewish — arrived on eight Kindertransport trains.

Organiser Eva Dydlipacova said: “The main idea was to inspire young people by remembering Sir Nicholas’s heroic act. He was very brave at just the age of 30. Young people need to look around and find stories of goodness.”

Kenton United Synagogue member Josi Knight, 86, was keen to retrace her escape to Britain and was joined by her daughter, who had travelled from the United States to take part.

Speaking from the train, Mrs Knight said: “I wanted to do this journey again to remember what Sir Nicholas did for us. I was one of the children who left Slovakia with my two little sisters. We arrived in London on July 1, 1939, and we were lucky because we had an uncle in London and we were taken to a Jewish convalescent home.”

Also among the travellers were 12 students who won international competitions to take part. They included children from China, Britain and Slovakia. The train was pulled by steam locomotives built in Czechoslovakia and Germany in the 1930s.

Passengers travelled in Hungarian carriages and were greeted at stations by dignitaries including Rabbi Nathan Alfred of the International Jewish Centre in Brussels, and the Czech ambassadors in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last updated: 12:02pm, September 3 2009