Sir Nicholas Winton

isifa/Eduard Erben

Sir Nicholas Winton, a British man who helped save hundreds of Jewish children from the Holocaust during World War II, has passed away at the age of 106.

He died peacefully in his sleep Wednesday at Wexham Hospital in Maidenhead, England, his son-in-law Stephen Watson told the BBC

Winton, nicknamed the "British Schindler," remained quiet for nearly half a century about his acts of heroism, including his role in organizing trains to rescue 669 children bound for Nazi concentration camps. He organized for eight trains to leave Prague—including one that left July 1, 1939. Winton's passing Wednesday occurred on the 76th anniversary of this train's departure; it was this particular train, the BBC reports, that was carrying the largest number of children—241—saved in a singular instance.

In addition to helping hundreds of mostly Czech children escape the Nazi invasion in Prague, Winton worked to find them foster families. Nearly all of the children's biological parents were killed in concentration camps. After the end of World War II, many of these orphaned kids stayed in Britain, according to the New York Times. Others returned to Czechoslovakia and some emigrated to Israel, Australia or the United States. Many of these survivors would now be in their 70s and 80s and reportedly still refer to themselves as "Winton's Children."

It was only in 1988 that Winton's heroism became known to the world after his wife found a scrapbook in their attic that contained the names of the children he'd saved. Winton suggested throwing the papers away, but his wife wouldn't allow it. "I did not think for one moment that they would be of interest to anyone so long after it happened," he later recalled to the New York Times.

In a 2001 interview with the New York Times, the modest hero offered some insight into why he helped hundreds of Jewish children. "One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that," he said. "Why did I do it? Why do people do different things. Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all."

Prime Minister David Cameron remembered Winton on Twitter, writing, "The world has lost a great man. We must never forget Sir Nicholas Winton's humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust."

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