Chronology of Events
This timeline is intended as a guide to the study of this era and a
context for the work of Nicholas Winton. (References to Winton are in
bold face below.)
Nicholas Winton is born in London — his paternal
grandparents and his parents were of German Jewish decent. Winton's
parents and he and his siblings (one brother and one sister)
converted to Christianity.
August 1914 — November 1918
First World War (WWI)
Czechoslovakia is established after the fall of the
Austrian-Hungarian Empire following the First World War. The country
is made up of two groups of Slav people, the Czechs, the Slovaks, and
The Treaty of Versailles, which declares Germany
responsible for World War I and its consequences, is signed. The
treaty deals harshly with a defeated Germany, and includes territorial,
military, financial, and general territorial provisions, including the
demilitarization and 15-year occupation of the Rhineland (area between
France and Germany), limitations on German armed forces and reparations
of £6,600 million.
Adolf Hitler becomes leader of National Socialist
German Workers Party (Nazis).
The Beer Hall Putsch (Hitler's attempt to overthrow
regional government in Munich) is unsuccessful, and Hitler is
imprisoned for nine months.
Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler's book, is published.
1931 — 1939
Nicholas Winton works for international banking
company in London.
Japan attacks China. The Nazi party gains majority in
the German Reichstag and Hitler is named Chancellor. The Reichstag
building burns in a "mysterious" fire and all other political parties
are abolished. Hitler denounces the Treaty of Versailles. There are
public book burnings in Germany. Anti-Jewish laws are passed in Germany,
such as: no Kosher butchering, no Jewish civil servants, no Jewish
lawyers, and quotas for Jews in universities.
Any Germans holding non-Nazi political meetings are subject to arrest
and imprisonment in concentration camps. (The first camp is Oranienburg,
outside of Berlin.) Dachau is built as a concentration-work camp.
(Specific death camps are not yet built, but the elderly and those who
were very young, disabled, or sick have difficulty surviving the harsh
conditions of the camps.)
Although Winton's family originally thought the German people were
too intelligent to trust Hitler, they become more and more afraid of
Hitler's growing power.
Von Hindenburg, president of the German Weimer Republic,
dies. The Nazi-controlled Reichstag combines the offices of president
and chancellor. Hitler becomes both, taking the title of Füehrer. In
June, on the "Night of the Long Knives," leaders of the S.A.
(Stormtroopers), including S.A. head Ernst Röhm, and other political
opponents of Hitler, are arrested and executed. Seventy-seven men are
reportedly executed on charges of treason, though historians tend to
think the number is higher. Hitler then receives an oath of allegiance
from all those who serve in the army.
The Nuremberg Laws are passed in Germany, and Jews
are declared non-citizens; civil rights are abolished, Jews cannot
employ non-Jews, marriage or sexual relations between Jews and
non-Jews is prohibited, and licenses for Jewish doctors, dentists
and lawyers are revoked. Hitler violates the Treaty of Versailles
by creating the Luftwaffe (the German Air Forces), and introducing
conscription in order to build a large German army.
In Germany, Nicholas Winton realizes that his family would be
considered Jewish and treated as such. The Wintons begin taking in
relatives who leave Germany to escape Hitler.
Italy invades Ethiopia. The Spanish Civil War begins.
German re-militarizes the Rhineland and Hitler re-arms Germany. During
the Olympic Games in Berlin, Hitler refuses to place the gold medal
around African-American Jesse Owens' neck.
1936 — 1938
On business trips to Germany, Winton watches in
horror as the Nazi party gains power and builds a propaganda machine.
He witnesses the arrest and beating of Jews, and other ruthless
behavior of Nazis.
Hitler aids Franco's efforts in Spain by "lending"
him the use of the German Air Force to bomb Loyalist strongholds such
as Guernica. The Japanese seize Peking (now Beijing). Franklin Roosevelt
gives his "Quarantine Speech," which calls for the separation of the
United States from an "epidemic of world lawlessness." The Buchenwald
concentration camp is built near Weimar, Germany.
March 13, 1938
Germany "annexes" Austria. Nearly a million cheering
Austrians line the streets of Vienna to welcome Hitler.
The Munich Conference is attended by the heads of
state of Great Britain (Neville Chamberlain), France (Edouard Daladier),
Italy (Benito Mussolini) and Hitler. Britain and France agree to
Germany's annexing the Sudeten Region of Czechoslovakia in order to
"buy peace in our time."
Approximately 17,000 "stateless" Jews are deported
from Germany to Poland.
Kristallnacht, the "night of the broken glass," occurs
when Josef Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, orders "spontaneous"
demonstrations against Jews all over Germany. The order comes in
response to the death of a German soldier in Paris, killed by a young
Jewish student after hearing his parents had been deported. Thirty
thousand Jews are placed in concentration camps for what was termed
"protective custody." Nearly 200 synagogues are destroyed. Jewish
cemeteries are desecrated. Jewish businesses and homes are smashed.
The United States withdraws its Ambassador to Germany in protest.
Bank accounts of Jews are frozen. Jewish children are forbidden to
attend public schools, and Jews are given limited number of hours a
week to buy food.
British immigration laws allow more Jewish children to immigrate - no
other country takes these
measures. The "Refugee Children's Movement", a subsidiary group of
"Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief", is formed. This group
began "Operation Kindertransport" in order to get children from
Germany and Austria out of danger.
Parks, theaters, and museums are closed to Jews, and
radios and telephones are confiscated.
Nicholas Winton, 29 years old and planning a ski trip to Switzerland,
is asked by his friend Martin Blake to come instead to Prague and
witness the plight of Jews in Czechoslovakia. Winton travels to Prague
and observes the work of the "British Committee for Refugees from
Czechoslovakia." He focuses his attention on refugee children from the
Sudetenland, and also on the resident Czech Jewish children.
Winton returns to London with hundreds of pictures and details about
children whose parents hope to save them from the German advances.
Winton invents an organization, calling it the "Children's Section"
of the existing "British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia,"
and uses his own address as that of this new agency. Winton returns
to his bank job by day, but, in the evenings, writes to the press
and to every organization he can think of for help. He asks for money
to bring refugee children, mostly Jewish, from Czechoslovakia to England.
This £50 guarantee (approximately $3,000 today) per child was for
transport from England to Czechoslovakia (for each child's eventual
return trip home), and looks for foster parents to take in these children.
He prints cards with faces of the children and information about them
so that adopting parents could choose a child to foster. Winton uses
his invented agency to persuade the Home Office to let the children
come to England.
Germany invades and occupies the remainder of
Czechoslovakia. The Spanish Civil War ends with Franco in power.
On March 14, 1939, the first group of Winton's children arrives in
London. On the next day, March 15, 1939, Hitler invades Czechoslovakia
and parents begin to line up at the British Committee for Refugee
Children in Prague in an effort to get their children to safety.
The Soviets and the Germans sign a secret
non-aggression pact (called a pact of "mutual cynicism"). Poland and
England sign the Mutual Assistance Treaty. The British Fleet mobilizes
and civilian evacuations begin in London.
March — September 1939:
Winton arranges for 669 children to be rescued from
Czechoslovakia, now under German occupation. Eight transports (one
airplane and seven trains) of children arrive in England. A ninth
transport is scheduled to leave Prague on September 1, 1939, but
Germany invades Poland and the train in Prague never leaves the
station. None of the 250 children on board survive the Holocaust.
September 1, 1939
Once the war starts and no more children can be rescued, Winton joins
the R.A.F. (Royal Air Force) to help defend his country.
Germany invades Poland. France and Great Britain
declare war on Germany. The U.S. proclaims neutrality but will sell
arms to non-aggressors on a "cash and carry" basis.
October — November 1939
Nazis begin euthanasia on the sick and disabled in
Germany, and an assassination attempt on Hitler fails.
The Gestapo begins to take Jews into "protective
custody" and deports them to concentration (work) camps.
The Nazis begin to expand Auschwitz, a concentration
and POW camp. Germany invades Norway and Denmark.
May — June 1940
Germany invades France, Belgium, Luxembourg and
Holland. Norway, Belgium, Holland, France, Luxembourg and Yugoslavia
surrender to Germany. Italy enters the war on the side of the Axis
powers and invades Greece.
The Battle of Britain begins. There are massive
German air raids known as Blitzkrieg (known in Britain as
"the Blitz"), that continue throughout the war.
The United States begins military draft (conscription).
The Tripartite (Axis) Pact is signed by Germany, Italy and Japan.
The Warsaw ghetto is sealed by a brick wall.
The U.S. Congress approves the Lend-Lease Act,
which gives the president power to sell, transfer, lend or lease war
materials to nations whose defense is considered vital to the defense
of the U.S. in World War II.
Germany invades Greece and Yugoslavia.
Germany declares war on the Soviet Union.
Hermann Goering orders Reinhard Heydrich to organize
"The Final Solution" (the death of European Jews).
All German Jews are required to wear the yellow Star
Mobile killing units begin murdering Eastern
December 7, 1941
The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. The United States
declares war on Japan. Germany declares war on the United States.
The Wanssee Conference of German Leaders from
manufacturing, railroads and the military is held to detail plans for
carrying out "The Final Solution."
Six death camps (like Treblinka) are built in Poland.
Concentration camps are converted to death camps.
Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto revolt and are annihilated
by the Germans one month later.
August — October 1943
Prisoners at the Treblinka, Bialystock and Sobibor
death camps revolt. Most are killed.
June 6, 1944 D Day
Allied Forces invade Europe.
April 21, 1945
Soviet troops reach Berlin.
April 30, 1945
Hitler commits suicide.
May 7, 1945
The unconditional surrender of all German forces occurs.
May 8, 1945 VE Day
Victory in Europe.
August 7, 1945
The U.S. drops an atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
August 9, 1945
A second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
August 14, 1945 VJ Day
Japanese surrender, Victory over Japan.
A few Nazi war criminals are convicted at the
Nuremberg Trials. The vast majority remains unpunished to this day.