In April 2014, Bob Simon, a 60 Minutes correspondent shared a story of Sir Nicholas Winton—a stockbroker in London who is responsible for saving 669 Czech children from the Nazis during WWII.
Almost all of the 669 children were taken in by the people of England. Winton, 104 years old now, told 60 minutes that he made a desperate plea for help the US in 1939. He written a letter to Franklin Roosevelt and described the plight of the children of Czechoslovakia and asked that America reach out and grant refuge to a number of them.
Winton tells 60 Minutes that America wouldn’t take any children.
David Langbart is an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration. He was watching 60 Minutes when Winton’s story aired and he was struck by the story. In an interview Langbart gives to 60 Minutes Overtime, he describes his first impression of Winton and shared that Winton had “chutzpah” and was “incredibly caring man who put himself on the line.”
Langbart decided to look for evidence of the letter to FDR after he watched the story. Langbart discovered the original letter to the president which was in the Department of State records at the National Archives—which the whereabouts of the document had been a mystery for 75 years.
Vanessa Fica, the co-producer to the story, shares that she got “goose bumps” when she learned the letter had been found.
Langbart also uncovered several internal communications between government officials regarding Winton’s letter.
According to Langbart, once the White House received the letter, it sent the request to the Department of the State for action. Then the Department of the State sent the letter to the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees and suggested that organizations involved may be interested in helping Winton’s cause.
Langbart also discovered another memo issued from the Department of State that instructed the US Embassy in London to “acknowledge receipt of Mr. Winton’s letter” and tell him that the US is unable to permit so many immigrants into the country due to the immigration laws.
The US denied Winton’s request in a letter that was sent by the US Embassy in London. Winton kept that original note and it appeared on the 60 Minutes broadcast.
CBS News shares Winton’s letter and it reads:
Perhaps people in America do not realize how little is being and has been done for refugee children in Czechoslovakia. They have to depend entirely on private guarantors to get into England, which means that somebody has to take full responsibility for maintenance, upkeep, and education, until they are 18 years of age. No other country is taking an interest in them except for Sweden, which took 35 children last February. We at this office have case-papers and photos of over 5000 children, quite apart from a further 10,000 whom we estimate have to register. Actually, so far, we have brought only about 120 into England.
In Bohemia and Slovakia today, there are thousands of children, some homeless and starving, mostly without nationality, but they certainly all have one thing in common: there is no future, if they are forced to remain where they are. Their parents are forbidden work and the children are forbidden schooling, and apart from the physical discomforts, which all this signifies, the moral degradation is immeasurable. Yet since Munich, hardly anything has been done for the children in Czechoslovakia. Many of the children are quite destitute having had to move more than once since they originally fled from Germany.
Is it possible for anything to be done to help us with this problem in America? It is hard to state our case forcibly in a letter, but we trust to your imagination to realize how desperately urgent the situation is.
Believe me, Esteemed Sir, with many thanks,
Your obedient Servant,