Deerfield club member Ryan Twose meets Renata Laxova during the unveiling of the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame

It was almost 75 years ago, but Renata Laxova remembers the night her mother put her on the kindertransport train to England with 100 other children with heartbreaking clarity.


“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 Hitler’s armies, which would invade Czechoslovakia, her homeland, in 1939. Laxova was one of nearly 700 children – most of them Jewish – who fled Prague between 13 March and 2 August 1939 because of the kindness and determination of one man, Sir Nicholas Winton.

To honor his courage and humanity, Winton, a Rotarian for more than 40 years, became the first inductee into the Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame on 26 September. The exhibit, which is on permanent display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois, is a project of the Rotary clubs of Lincolnshire (Morning Star), Barrington Breakfast, Skokie Valley, Northbrook, and Evanston Lighthouse.

Although the 104-year-old Sir Winton was unable to attend, 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, a new award-winning documentary on Winton's life, narrated by Canadian journalist Joe Schlesinger, himself one of the children Winton saved.


The Rotarian Peace Hall of Fame was established to recognize Rotary members worldwide who promote peace and resolve conflict. 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. 

Winton’s good deeds initially went undiscovered for 50 years. After the war broke out, he put away his working documents, and never told anyone, including his wife, Grete. In 1988, Grete came across a leather briefcase in their attic, complete with a scrapbook detailing the evacuations, lists and photographs of the children, and letters from their parents. She persuaded Winton to have his efforts documented.

Winton, who served as president of the Maidenhead Rotary club, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. He also has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Czech Republic, and in 2007, won the Czech Republic’s highest military honor.

Laxova didn’t discover Winton’s role in her escape until the 1990s. Her chance to meet Winton came in 2009, when a special anniversary train recreated the voyage of the kindertrains from Prague to London. Laxova joined the last leg of the trip to the Liverpool station, where Sir Nicholas greeted them just as he had seven decades earlier when they were children.

“He was crowded by thousands of people,” she recalls. “I shook his hand, but I couldn’t find words. It was very, very emotional.”