Winton made his fateful journey on a whim. Germany had recently annexed the Sudetenland, forcing many Jewish families to flee into the Czechoslovakian capital, and he feared what would happen to the refugees if the Nazis took over the rest of the country.
Considering he had next to no experience in humanitarian work, what Winton managed to do next was remarkable.
In Prague, he found hundreds of children, most of them Jewish, whose parents hoped to send them to safety in Britain. Back home, Winton set up a fake charity organization, appointed himself head, and began lobbying for foster homes and official refugee status for the children. With the help of a team in Prague – and, he hints, a little bit of forgery and blackmail – he managed to get eight trains full of children out of the country before the German invasion.
All told, 669 children made it to Britain. Counting their descendants, it's estimated that 6,000 people owe their lives to Winton's campaign.
"I work on the motto that, if something's not impossible, there must be a way of doing it," he told CBS News in April.
To celebrate Winton's accomplishments, dozens of these lucky survivors gathered from around the globe to help the heroic centenarian ring in his 105th birthday at the Czech embassy in London.
"It is never too long or too far to come and see Nicky," Ruth Hálová, one of "Nicky's Children," told The Guardian.
Winton kept quiet about his achievements, and they were not well known in Britain until a 1988 episode of the BBC show That's Life recounted his story. He was knighted in 2002, and in October will join the Czech Republic's Order of the White Lion, the country's highest honor.