It's been nearly 75 years, but Renata Laxova remembers with heartbreaking clarity the night her mother put her on the kindertransport train to England with 100 other children.
"My mother said, 'We love you and we want you to be happy and go to school and play,' " says Laxova, who was just eight years old at the time. "She said 'You know' -- and I did -- 'everything that is going on.' "
That "everything" was the advance of Hitler's armies. They would invade Laxova's homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939. Laxova was one of nearly 700 children -- most of them Jewish -- who fled Prague between 13 March and 2 August, 1939, through the kindness and determination of one man, Sir Nicholas Winton.
Winton, a Rotarian for more than 40 years, was inducted into the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame on 26 September. The exhibit is a project of the Rotary clubs of Lincolnshire (Morning Star), Barrington Breakfast, Skokie Valley, Northbrook, and Evanston Lighthouse, Illinois, USA, and is on permanent display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois.
Although the 104-year-old Sir Winton was unable to attend the event, two of the children he saved, Laxova and Gerard Friedenfeld, joined 80 guests at the exhibit's grand opening and dedication gala. In addition to touring the museum and hearing Laxova and Friedenfeld's personal stories, attendees were treated to the Chicago premiere of Nicky's Family, the new award-winning documentary on Winton's life. The film is narrated by Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger, who is another of the children Winton saved.
Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame
The Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame was established to recognize the efforts of Rotary members worldwide to promote peace and resolve conflict. According to its organizers, honorees will have demonstrated efforts to prevent or resolve civil unrest or armed conflicts through peaceful means, or relieved suffering during civil unrest or armed conflict.
"The Rotarians we are going to recognize are the role models that we want the 100,000 schoolchildren who come through the Holocaust museum every year to see," says David Waring, a past governor of District 6440 in Illinois.
Laxova believes it is fitting that Winton was chosen as the first inductee.
"He's very deserving," she says. "He's so humble and kind. This is what Rotarians do. They support where support is needed."
Winton, who served as president of the Rotary Club of Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. The Czech Republic has nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2007, he won that country's highest military honor.
Learn more about Sir Nicholas Winton in The Rotarian magazine.
Watch a trailer of Nicky's Family