Sir Nicholas Winton, the man known as the "British Oskar Schindler" who saved more than 600 Jewish children from the Holocaust, has died aged 106.
Sir Nicholas rescued the children in Czechoslovakia at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, organising for British families to take them in instead of letting them be sent to concentration camps.
Home Secretary Theresa May called Sir Nicholas, from Pinkneys Green, Maidenhead, “a hero of the 20th century”.
Ms May, who is also MP for Maidenhead, said: “Sir Nicholas Winton was a hero of the 20th century. Against the odds, he almost single-handedly rescued hundreds of children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazis – an enduring example of the difference that good people can make even in the darkest of times. Because of his modesty, this astonishing contribution only came to light many years later.
“So many people owe their lives to Nicholas and it was fitting that, in his later years, he finally received the recognition he deserved. Maidenhead is rightly proud of all that he did, and we must ensure that his legacy lives on by continuing to tackle anti-Semitism and discrimination wherever it arises.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also paid tribute: “Sir Nicholas Winton was one of the greatest people I have ever met - his loss will be deeply felt across the Jewish world.”
An unassuming hero, Sir Nicholas kept details of the operation secret for half a century – not even his wife and children were aware of his extraordinary rescue effort in an operation dubbed the Czech Kindertransport.
His efforts to save the children went largely unnoticed for almost 50 years, until he was reunited with a number of the children for an edition of the TV show That's Life in 1988.
Sir Nicholas' son-in-law, Stephen Watson, said he died peacefully in his sleep at Wexham Hospital in Slough.
His son Nick said of his father’s legacy: “It is about encouraging people to make a difference and not waiting for something to be done or waiting for someone else to do it. It’s what he tried to tell people in all his speeches and in the book written by my sister.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton's humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust.”
Sir Nicholas’s work during the war, which was the subject of a BBC Radio Berkshire documentary last month, involved setting up Czech Kinderstransport, one of a number of relief organisations set up to rescue Jewish children from Nazi-occupied areas.
He arranged for a total of eight trains to take children from Prague, as well as other forms of transport from Vienna, and ultimately saved 669 children.
Sir Winton was knighted by the Queen in March 2003.
Last October Sir Nicholas was awarded the Order of the White Lion, Czech Republic’s highest honour, from President Milos Zeman at a ceremony at Prague Castle. Sir Nicholas said he was delighted to receive it.
“I want to thank you all for this tremendous expression of thanks for something which happened to me nearly 100 years ago,” he joked upon receiving the award. “And 100 years is a heck of a long time.”
He gave credit to the many foster parents who made the mission possible. “I thank the British people for making room for them, to accept them and of course, the enormous help given by so many Czechs who were at that time doing what they could to fight the Germans and to try and get the children out,” Sir Nicholas said.
World Jewish Relief, a UK-based international Jewish charity, said last night/on Wednesday: “Wishing long life to the family of Sir Nicholas Winton who has passed away at 106. His legacy, saving 669 children from the Nazis, lives on.”