Czech Republic awards Sir Nicholas Winton nation's highest order

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

File photo of Sir Nicholas Winton, MBE, in 2007.
Image: Hynek Moravec.

Sir Nicholas Winton, MBE visited the Czech Republic today and received the Order of the White Lion from the hands of president Miloš Zeman. As a British citizen in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s, Winton, now 105, saved 669 mostly Jewish children from future Nazi oppression organizing their transport to safety.

The decoration took place in the Prague Castle, separate from the evening ceremony where other distinguished people is to be awarded, in respect to Sir Nicholas's health. Winton was accompanied by his family members and met several children he saved. During the same ceremony, Miloš Zeman awarded the Order of the White Lion in memoriam also to the late Winston Churchill, who was the United Kingdom's prime minister during World War II and led the country as a major part of the anti-Hitler coalition to victory over Nazi Germany. Churchill's grandson Nicholas Soames accepted the order.

During the ceremony, Zeman apologized for the delay before Winton eventually received these honors, and said "Great thanks for all children you saved" ((cz))Czech language: ‍Velké díky za všechny děti, které jste zachránil. Winton replied "I want to thank you all for this enormous expression of thankgiving for something that happened to me nearly a hundred years ago" ((cz))Czech language: ‍Rád bych poděkoval všem za tento neuvěřitelný výraz vděku za něco, co jsem udělal snad před sto lety.

The Order of the White Lion is the highest Czech Republic decoration, awarded to the statesmen and other individuals "to recognize superior accomplishments contributing to the welfare of the Czech Republic", as the act of the state decorations defines. With the exception of a few statesmen in office, Winton and Winston Churchill have been the first people to receive the order in the civil division in eleven years.

In recent years, around 250 thousand Czech students signed a petition asking the Nobel Peace Prize for Winton, who has been nicknamed by media "British Oskar Schindler". His acts were not known to wide public until the late 1980s, when his wife found documents in their attic and shared them with an historian. Since then, he has been decorated with the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in the Czech Republic and knighted in the United Kingdom. In Prague's central railway station, there is a monument to children saved by Winton.

The Czech Republic celebrates its national holiday today. On October 28, 96 years ago, the former Czechoslovakia was founded as a country independent from former Habsburg Monarchy.