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Nicholas Winton and Refugee Children: A Follow-up to “60 Minutes”

by on April 30, 2014


Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

The April 27, 2014, broadcast of the CBS news show “60 Minutes” included a segment entitled “Saving the children.”   It recounted the efforts of Nicholas Winton, a British citizen, to save almost 700 Czechoslovakian children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazi German occupation.

Correspondent Bob Simon interviewed Mr. Winton, who is now 104 years old.  During their discussion, Simon asked Winton if he had approached countries other than England to accept children.  Winton replied that he wrote to the United States, but that America would not accept any of the children.  Simon explained that Winton wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and received a reply from the U.S. embassy in London explaining that the U.S. was “unable” to help.

Winton’s letter is now in the National Archives, the agency responsible for preserving the permanently valuable records of the U.S. Government.  The White House referred it to the Department of State for action shortly after receipt.  It was ultimately filed in the Department’s primary file on the issue of refugees displaced by persecution and war in Europe.

Nicholas Winton to President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Nicholas Winton to President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Included in the file with Winton’s letter is the documentation of the Department’s limited follow-up.  The Department took two steps:

First, it forwarded a copy of the letter to George L. Warren, Executive Secretary of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees.  The Department suggested that organizations represented by the Committee might be interested.

Theodore C. Achilles, Chairman to George L. Warren, Executive Secretary

Theodore C. Achilles, Chairman to George L. Warren, Executive Secretary

Second, it sent the U.S. embassy in London a copy of the letter with the instruction to acknowledge receipt of the letter and “to advise him that the United States Government is unable, in the absence of specific legislation, to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws,” but that the letter had been forwarded to the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees since it was possible that private organizations might be of help.

Despatch No. 749 to the American Ambassador, London

Despatch No. 749 to the American Ambassador, London

Source: All documents come from File 840.48 Refugees, 1930-39 Central Decimal File (National Archives Identifier 302021), Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, National Archives, College Park.  The entirety of the “840.48 Refugee” file is on rolls 19-70 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M1284: Records of the Department of State Relating to the Problems of Relief and Refugees in Europe Arising from World War II and Its Aftermath, 1938-1949.


Comments

Henry Wolfinger May 5, 2014 at 8:02 am

Inspiring story – thanks for the followup.

Michael Rhodes May 20, 2014 at 9:47 am

David: How long did it take to locate these documents? Also – Has Mr. Winton reacted to your announcement that we have his original letter to FDR?

Michael Rhodes

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