Nicholas Winton – Saving Jewish Kids in WWII

In 1938, London stockbroker Nicholas Winton decided to use his two weeks vacation to get to work. As violence began escalating against Jewish people in Europe, the 29-year-old traveled to Prague and ended up saving the lives of 669 children, mostly Jews, from almost certain death. Winton – now 104 – has spoken to CBS’ 60 Minutes about his incredible story, which included theft, forging documents and even blackmailing officials to get his way.

‘It worked, that’s the main thing,’ he said, grinning.


Nazis in Czechoslovakia Nicholas Winton

As the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia, Winton – who had no experience or connections in this sort of work – decided that he would travel to Prague to see if he could save people. He had actually booked a vacation to go skiing in Switzerland, but changed his plans at the last minute when a friend involved in Jewish refugee work asked him for help. ‘All I knew was that the people that I met couldn’t get out,’ Winton, who was born to German Jewish parents in London, told CBS’ 60 Minutes in a special interview. ‘And they were looking of ways of at least getting their children out… I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.’

‘Children’s Section’

He set up shop in the city and people soon started coming to him, forcing him to work late into the night, historian David Silberklang told CBS. When he returned to London, he had lists of hundreds of children and got to task convincing the British authorities to take them. He pretended to be more official than he was by taking stationery from an established refugee organization, adding ‘Children’s Section’ to its header and making himself chairman, CBS reported. Nicholas Winton

He admitted it took ‘a little smoke and mirrors’ to convince authorities to believe him – but he said it mostly took getting a printing press to print the paper. He continued his work as a stockbroker by day, before returning to the office to work on getting the children to the UK. His mother and volunteers also helped at the office. He said he contacted American authorities to take the children, but they said they were unable. But British authorities said they would take them if Winton found each one a home, so he got to work advertising their pictures so that families would take them. When he had secured them homes, the youngsters were ready to leave – but he found that the British authorities were slow to issue their travel documents.

nicholas winton
Document of Identity for a young boy


“To learn more about his heroic efforts to save Czech Jewish children during WWII, visit Nicholas Winton

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...