RESIDENTS of a Sheffield nursing home were given a dramatic and highly personal history lesson thanks to the arrival of their newest member - one of ‘Winton’s children’.
Now 88, Rudi Wessely was just 14 when he said ‘farewell’ to his parents and left Prague on a specially commissioned train bound for England.
He was one of 669 Jewish children rescued from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the outbreak of World War Two by Nicholas Winton, the man later dubbed the ‘British Schindler’.
Rudi never saw his mother and father again - they were murdered in Auschwitz, as were the majority of Czechoslovakian Jews he left behind.
He told his story to residents of Broomgrove Nursing Home in Broomgrove Road, off Ecclesall Road.
Just before Christmas 1938, Nicholas Winton was about to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. But the 29-year-old stockbroker decided instead to travel to Prague to help a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work.
There he single-handedly established an organisation to help children from Jewish families in Czechoslovakia at risk from the Nazis - they were later nicknamed ‘Winton’s children’.
Nicholas Winton found homes for every single one of them in the UK and arranged for their safe passage on eight ‘Kindertransport’ trains.
Rudi witnessed the invasion of the Nazis and Hitler’s appearance on the balcony of Prague Castle before he left for safety.
The last train never left. It was due to leave on the day war broke out and the 250 children had to disembark. They all perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Rudi Wessely met his savour, Nicholas Winton, in later life and returned to Prague in 2003 in the company of TV personality Esther Rantzen who made a programme about him.
“Without Nicholas Winton, I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you now,” he explained to his hushed Broomgrove audience.
Rudi had never been to the UK before 1939 and his only knowledge of British culture were taken from books like Little Lord Fauntleroy.
“I arrived in Britain wearing plus fours” he laughed!
Spending his working life in education, he originally settled in Hull, but later came to Sheffield, and Broomgrove, which is Sheffield’s only nursing home with charitable status.
Jill Wall, the home’s manager, said: “All residents and staff were visibly moved by Rudi Wessely’s story and we have to thank him for sharing it with us. His warmth and humour is already making him very popular and it’s a privilege to have him as part of our community.”
Nicholas Winton, who is now 103, was knighted in 2002 and has been honoured in numerous ways by the Czech Government, including a nomination for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.