One Life true story: Surviving Kinder remember Nicholas Winton
Three of the children saved by Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport share their experiences.
The new film One Life – which has just been released in UK cinemas – tells the remarkable true story of Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport.
The film chronicles both how Winton helped save hundreds of Central European Jewish children from the Nazis by arranging transport to the UK just before the outbreak of World War II, and how decades later he met many of those he had saved for the first time – coming face to face with them on a highly emotional episode of Esther Rantzen's That's Life! in 1988.
Ahead of the release, RadioTimes.com spoke to three of the surviving Kinder, Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, Vera Schaufeld, and Renate Collins – all of whom are now in their 90s – about their memories of the Kindertrasport and meeting Nicholas Winton, who died aged 106 in 2015, all those years later.
Read on to see what they each had to say.
Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines
"I was nine and my sister was three-and-a-half, and I often say to people: I know it happened, I've got proof that it happened, but I cannot physically remember coming through there.
More like this
"We were taken up by this gentleman who we lived with in Ashton Under Lyne, our foster parents were very good and we were very happy with them. But with my memory, I can tell you what happened, but I cannot see it in my memory... it's 90 years ago, nearly 90 years ago."
"When I got that phone call and I heard 'This is Esther Rantzen' it's like somebody's saying 'this is David Beckham'. I thought someone was pulling my leg and I said, 'And I'm the Queen of England,' that was my answer!
"And then I discovered it was Esther Ranzten phoning because she'd found my name on the list that was in the scrapbook of Nicholas Winton. And I was one of the people they invited to come to the studio in London to meet him. And that's how I met the man who saved my life.
"There were seven of us there and it so happened that we were all at school together, we had a Czechoslovakian school during the war. But not all the children in that school were part of his transport. And the people watching that programme who eventually got in touch with Esther Rantzen and turned up at the studio, I certainly didn't know them all because we were all over England.
"So the second part where everybody stands up, I didn't actually come down for that second part. So every one of them will have had their own story to tell.
"Once he'd done what he could do and he knew he could do no more, he thought, 'OK, I'll get on with the next thing.' And what he did, he actually drove an ambulance, he then joined the Air Force and his eyesight wasn't good enough to fly but he was a flight instructor.
"And then after he was doing positive stuff, he did a lot of voluntary work. And it was an altruistic life. He never looked for reward, he never looked for thanks. He was a very... when I say gentle, he was gentle, but he was also a very firm sort of person. He knew exactly what he wanted and what he wanted to do.
"He was very sociable, and once we got to know him we had lovely birthday parties at his house. He drove his car very fast – one story has it that at 100 years old I think he got booked for speeding! And I experienced some of his driving personally actually, I experienced some of his flying because he was a flight instructor and he knew how to fly and he was offered a flight in a four-seater Cessna, and he said yes, he would love that.
"And he was now 104 years old! So we drove down to the field and he climbed into the plane and I sat behind him. Every plane has dual controls and once we were up in the air, the pilot pointed to the controls in front and Nicky nodded his head, took over and for half an hour I was being flown by a 104-year-old pilot!
"The real pilot landed the plane, and we got out and he said, 'Well, just like riding a bicycle!" And then there was a wheelchair to take him away. So he was an amazing, amazing man. He could quote Shakespeare, he loved classical music, I know his friends used to bring him up to London to the opera.
"The third time I saw the film I was with Nicholas Winton's son – also called Nick – and we were discussing it after the film and he said to me, 'There were times when I was looking at Pa.' In other words, he was amazing – considering that Anthony Hopkins had never met him – we all agreed that his speech, his movements... They couldn't have found anyone that could have been better.
"I watched it three times, and the first time I can't say I didn't like it but because I knew the story I sort of said about one or two things, 'That didn't happen, that didn't happen.' But, having seen it the third time, it's an amazing film and it ought to be shown at every lesson of the Holocaust in schools.
"A lot of schools now do have Holocaust lessons and it should be made as part of the curriculum and children should be encouraged to watch what altruism means."
"I just knew really nothing of what was happening in Germany. My mother was born in Germany, my father in Czechoslovakia. My mother was a doctor, which was quite unusual at that time and my father was a lawyer. And I had a very nice early childhood, I was an only child and I knew nothing of what was happening in the world.
"And then one day, I came down to breakfast, and I found this awful atmosphere in the room. And what happened was that my parents were sitting and listening to the radio. And we heard that Czechoslovakia was invaded, and wasn't a free country anymore.
"And then, very shortly after my father was arrested because Hitler had a list of important people and my father was a lawyer who represented Czechoslovakia in international law conferences.
"What happened was, when I went to school – because my mother and my grandmother kept me home from school when my father was arrested – a teacher who I had liked very much said 'Oh, Vera isn't here today... when things happen, the Jews are always the first to run away.' And I went back home and was devastated because I'd always loved my teacher.
"When I arrived at Liverpool Street Station, I was so frightened because I couldn't understand the language and sat there and saw other children being collected. I was terribly worried that nobody would come and fetch me.
"And then a lady called Miss Lee, from a committee that had been set up, came and collected me and the two other children and took us in her car and I was taken to a Christian family living in Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk and they had an only daughter called Becky.
"And I thought that I would live with them for a short time and then my parents would come and get me. Or I'd be able to go to wherever they were. Because they'd paid 50 pounds for my transport to England.
"The Esther Rantzen programme was the first time... I had no idea that it was Nicholas Winton, I had no idea of what had happened. And when I heard from the BBC, that was the first time I realised who had brought us and I sat behind in the row back from Nicholas Winton and was delighted to meet him and to get to know him very well – and his daughter Barbara who was a big part in the film and sadly died recently.
"It was so important to meet the person who brought us over. I had no idea about any of this and it was great to be there and I made a lifelong friend.
"What stands out is my memory is being taken by Natasha Kaplinski to meet Nicholas Winton when he was 105 years old and he said to me, 'Why have you come?' And I said, because I talk about the Holocaust and Holocaust education to inform about what happened.
"And Nicholas said to me, 'People never learn from history – until they can begin to feel empathy with people, they don't change.' And that's always stayed in my mind."
"[The film] was very interesting, but it wasn't my experience coming over because on my train... we weren't searched by the soldiers and the cases weren’t tipped upside down. We weren't made to show our passports.
"I was actually at the original [TV recording] with Esther Rantzen. I was right in front of them. When he stood up to turn around. I was right in front of him. It was a very emotional programme.
"That was the first time a lot of the world knew about what he did and was the first time any of us knew who brought us over. When you think we came in 1939, this was 1988. All we were told was you’re going to meet the person who brought you over at Elstree Studios.
"He spoke to us in general, when we were having a cup of tea. I spoke to him many times afterwards. And I did quite a few programmes, dinners and things with Esther Rantzen afterwards. And it's the only show she ever did where she had to go out during the day to be remade up because she was so emotional about it.
"He wasn't really a very big conversationist as he didn't want any praise for what he done. He was very introverted. He knew what he'd done was wonderful, but he didn't want to say too much about it. And it was Barbara Winton, his daughter, who made more mention of what he was like."
One Life is now showing in UK cinemas while a digital exhibition curated in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery titled ONE LIFE: Sir Nicholas Winton and Portraits of Kindertransport Refugees is available at npg.org.uk.