A few years ago Suffolk Refugee Support put together a booklet of local refugee stories to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, a document born out of the horrors of World War II. The first story in the collection is that of Tom Gondris, an elderly gentleman with an MBE for services to Conservation and Heritage in Suffolk. Tom escaped from Czechoslovakia on one of the last Kindertransport trains to leave Prague before the outbreak of war in 1939. These trains were organised by Sir Nicholas Winton, who died this week aged 106. Tom was one of 669 children to be rescued by Sir Nicholas, and was in no doubt that he would otherwise have perished in the Holocaust – as did the rest of his family. He was proud to call himself one of ‘Winton’s Children’.
Today, while politicians debate whether rescuing and providing sanctuary to refugees is the right thing to do, it is worth remembering Sir Nicholas’ simple belief that every life mattered. To the end, he felt guilt for those who didn’t escape in time. And while, with hindsight, the rescue of Jewish children in 1939 might seem a more black-and-white issue than today’s refugee crises, it is also worth remembering that the response of some sections of the government and press at the time was equally hostile and couched in the same language of ‘floods’ and ‘invasion’. Sir Nicholas Winton’s legacy is one of kindness and common humanity, and those he helped rescue, like Tom Gondris, have contributed enormously to UK society in the decades since.
You can read the story of Tom Gondris and those of other refugees in Suffolk here…
…and a full and moving obituary to Sir Nicholas Winton here