The Man Who Saved Them

A famous story about the power of service

Welcome to The Process. Every week, I share lessons and insights on the process of improvement.

If this email was forwarded to you, subscribe below and join 21,000+ others in the community.

Now, onto Issue 55.

Brought to you by: MGMT Playbook

Want to become a better manager or leader?

Then I can’t recommend the MGMT Playbook enough. Give it a try:

MGMT PlaybookPractical management insights straight to your inbox every Wednesday.

The Man Who Saved Them

Nicholas Winton was planning a ski trip to Switzerland.

It was December 1938. 

Winton was a 29-year-old stock broker in London, looking for a place to enjoy some leisure around the holidays.

But then he got a call from a friend in Prague.

With World War II on the horizon, Prague had a Jewish refugee crisis. People were flooding into the city from areas under German occupation. Winton’s friend was assisting these people with finding food, shelter and safety. He asked Winton to come help him.

So, Winton canceled his ski trip and reported to the city.

He had no idea how many lives his decision would save.

In Prague, Winton met Doreen Wariner.

And Wariner, a British academic and economist involved in the refugee efforts, gave Winton a tip.

“There are all these children who should be got out, but the British Committee can’t do anything about it,” she told Winton. “If anything can be done, perhaps you’d like to try and do it.”

Winton went to work.

He started organizing a list of Jewish children who needed rescue. He secured guarantors to sponsor them. He found families in England who agreed to provide a safe home. He planned trains to transport the kids out.

Winton had to move fast.

The Nazis arrived in Prague on March 15, 1939 to begin the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Back in London, Winton worked his stock exchange job until 3:30 in the afternoon. He then spent his evenings working in near secrecy to get children out of Prague.

Over 9 months, Winton helped save 669 Czechoslovakian children from the Holocaust by transporting them to Britain.

It became known as the Czech Kindertransport.

Winton worked until time ran out.

The last train was scheduled for September 1, 1939. Germany invaded Poland that day, marking the beginning of World War II. 

250 children were supposed to be on the train.

But it never left.

Winton’s efforts went unknown for almost 50 years.

As the war broke out, his life continued on. He served in the Royal Air Force. He joined the Red Cross. He continued his career in banking. He did more humanitarian work.

He married his wife, Grete, in 1948, almost a decade after the Czech Kindertransport.

40 years later, as the story goes, Grete was searching their attic and found a scrapbook.

Winton had kept a record of all the children he helped save. It included names, pictures and key documents. But he had never told his wife about this part of his life.

Grete helped share Winton’s story.

It was featured on BBC in 1989, earning Winton widespread recognition, including being knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

“Why are you making such a big deal out of it?” Winton reportedly said. “I just helped a little. I was in the right place at the right time.”

Nicholas Winton died in 2015 at 106 years old.

Lesson: Serve widely, serve quietly 

I’m not sure which part of Winton’s story inspires me more:

  • That he helped save 669 children

  • Or that he said nothing about it for 50 years

Regardless, his story is the kind that makes you examine your own life. It reinforces a timeless lesson: 

→ Our lives are meaningful to the extent we serve others, and we should serve others solely for the sake of it.

There’s a line in the Navy SEAL Ethos that ties this idea together: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

Serve widely and serve quietly. 

It’s why we’re all here.

I’d love to hear from you

What’s your biggest takeaway from this issue?

Reply to this email and let me know.

I personally read every email.

P.S. If you enjoy The Process, please share this link with a friend and encourage them to join the community.

Thanks for reading.

See you next Sunday.