Brit given highest Czech honor for WWII heroism

LONDON -- In a ceremonial hall in Prague, a 105-year-old man received an honor he never sought.

Nicholas Winton was awarded the Order of the White Lion -- the Czech Republic's highest citation. And he received it with the humility with which he had done his heroic work.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have lived so long to give everybody the opportunity to exaggerate everything the way they are doing today," said Winton.

The Czech Republic presents the country's highest honor to Sir Nicholas Winton CBS News

It would be hard to exaggerate what Nicholas Winton did.

In 1938, with the Nazis already occupying part of then Czechoslovakia and preparing to roll over the rest, Nicholas Winton, then a 29-year-old London stockbroker, had gone to Prague and decided that if no one else would get the country's threatened Jewish children out -- he would.

He found the families. He made lists.

And, as he told Bob Simon of 60 Minutes earlier this year , he wouldn't take no for an answer.

"I work on the motto that if something`s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it," Winton said.

He badgered governments to allow the kids in. The U.S. refused, but the British finally agreed. And when bureaucracy dragged its feet, he forged visas and spread money around to move things along.

Saving the Children

It "took a bit of blackmail on my part" he said.

Asked if he was indulging in blackmail and forgery to get the children out, he replied:

"I've never heard it put like that before ... It worked. That's the main thing."

It worked for 669 children, saved from the Nazi death camps.

Fifty years later, on a BBC TV program, he met some of those who owed their lives to him.

Nicholas Winton has received other honors. He's become Sir Nicholas -- knighted by The Queen.

And now he has another honor he never wanted.

"I didn't really keep it secret," Winton said. "I just didn't talk about it."

It, and Nicholas Winton, are being talked about now.

  • Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.