Retired Suffolk businessman remembers how British Schindler Sir Nicholas Winton saved his life
As tributes flowed in to the “British Schindler”, a former Suffolk businessman who was on his last Kinder Transport train out of Prague has spoken of his gratitude to the man who saved his life.
Tom Gondris was a nine-year-old Czech child who spoke hardly a word of English when he was put on the train to Holland and the ferry to Harwich in 1939.
Mr Gondris’ journey from Prague to Britain was funded by family friends, so he was not included on the official list of 669 “Winton Children” who were found sponsors by Sir Nicholas, who died on Wednesday, aged 106.
But he is in no doubt about the importance of the man who saved so many children.
Mr Gondris said: “If he had not been there, if he had not organised the trains, I would not have survived. I owe him my life.”
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His parents, whom he waved goodbye to at Prague station, left their homeland and made their way to Poland in a bid to catch a boat to Britain to meet up with their son.
But the German and Russian invasion of Poland, and the start of the war, prevented that from happening.
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Mr Gondris said: “I hoped to see them again, but in the end that did not happen.” All the children who had escaped from the Nazis were offered British citizenship after the war.
Mr Gondris did National Service during the Suez campaign and became a successful businessman in Ipswich. During the 1960s and 1970s he was also a Labour councillor.
“All my life was made possible by Sir Nicholas,” he said. “I never met him – but I became aware of what he had done.”
In 2009 the 70th anniversary of the Kinder Transport was marked by the running of a special train from Prague to the Hook of Holland and then from Harwich to Liverpool Street.
At Liverpool Street there was an official reception hosted by the British Government and the Czech Embassy. The government representative was then Ipswich MP Chris Mole who was a transport minister.
He said: “I travelled from Harwich on the special steam train on that day. I met some of those who had been saved by Sir Nicholas. He really was a remarkable man.”
Sir Nicholas was at Liverpool Street to meet the train with members of his family – and had the opportunity to meet again some of the children he had saved.