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Recreating escape

September 1, 2009

A special train left Prague for London on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the mass transport of Jewish children from Czechoslovakia. It was organized by Nicholas Winton to save them from Nazi camps.

Passengers on the historic Winton train in Prague
Passengers on the 'Winton train' await departure from PragueImage: AP

The clocks were turned back 70 years on Tuesday as a group of pensioners gathered at Prague's Main Station, ready to board the 9.01 to London.

Clouds of steam billowed from the two locomotives as “Winton's Children” - surviving members of the group of 669 mostly Jewish children who were saved by Nicholas Winton's hastily improvised transports in 1939 - reminisced about their original journey.

Among them was Susanne Medas, who - although she had no inkling at the time - would never see her parents again.

“I wouldn't have thought it possible, but when I got onto the platform and I saw this train I started to cry. And I didn't think I would be sentimental at all," Medas said.

A passenger poses in front of the Winton train before it steams out of Prague
A passenger poses in front of the Winton train before it steams out of PragueImage: AP

"I was a teenager travelling with friends of my own age, we were hiking, I don't even remember whether my mother came to see me off. It wasn't a big deal, you know? It must have been really terrible for the little ones, because they couldn't understand why their parents were sending them away.”

Emotional journey

One of those “little ones” was Lisa Dasova, born in the north Bohemian town of Teplice. After Adolf Hitler was allowed to annex the Sudetenland - a German-speaking area that included Teplice - in October 1938, Lisa fled to Prague with her parents and brother. She was just four when she was put on a train to London, in May 1939.

"It is a very emotional feeling, and funnily enough I was so little, I just remember the blue - a blue train. And looking up, I thought the men, the drivers, were dressed in blue," Dasova said.

"But having looked at it now, it's blue! Which is amazing that I remember that, because I'm 74 now. So I remember that from 70 years ago…It is incredible, yes.”

Historic reunion with Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton organized a total of six trains in 1939. A seventh was waiting to depart with 250 children on September 3. It never left - war was by now raging in Europe - and none of the children are thought to have survived the Holocaust.

Those who did get out are now recreating their journey, crossing Germany and Holland by steam train and then by ferry across the English Channel, before arriving at London's Liverpool St station on Friday.

"Winton children" with a statue of Nicholas Winton in Prague
Some of those rescued pose beside a statue of Nicholas Winton at Prague's train stationImage: AP

There, just as 70 years ago, Nicholas Winton will be waiting to receive them. For 50 years he told no-one - not even his wife - about what he'd done, until the story emerged in the late 1980s.

Friday's arrival will be an emotional reunion between a man who has tried desperately to shun the limelight, and the children he saved from almost certain death in the camps.

Rob Cameron in Prague (sp)

Editor: Chuck Penfold