In December 1938, a British stockbroker of Jewish origins named Nicholas Winton devised a plan to bring Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to England; he succeeded in getting over 600 to safety. But the rescue might never have taken place without the efforts of local Jewish leaders in Prague, among them Marie Schmolka. Anna Hájková and Martin Šmok write:
It was Marie Schmolka’s appeal for help in December 1938 that brought the young Nicholas Winton to Prague. . . . Born to an assimilated Prague Jewish family, Schmolka married late and was widowed early. Quiet, warm, and with immense organizational talent, she became an avid Zionist following a trip to Palestine.
A lifelong social democrat involved in social work and high-level politics, she coordinated assistance to refugees from the Nazi regime. Schmolka was the sole Czech representative on the League of Nations Commission for Refugees.
Originally, Jewish refugees from Germany were welcomed in Czechoslovakia, but were gradually viewed as Nazi agents. Other countries refused to offer asylum: Schmolka knew this first hand as the Czech delegate at the 1938 Evian conference. After the 1938 Munich agreement and the following annexation of Czech borderlands, the relief organizations were unable to cope with the influx of over 100,000 refugees, both Jews and political opponents of Nazism. . . .
Repeatedly warned by her friends and offered asylum while abroad, Schmolka insisted she must return home to do the work at hand. When Germany occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Marie Schmolka and her co-workers from the Committee for Refugees were among the first arrested. . . . Schmolka was imprisoned for two months in Pankrác prison, while the Gestapo subjected her, a diabetic, to eight-hour interrogations. In August, Adolf Eichmann sent her to Paris to demand more efficient Jewish emigration [from Germany]; stranded by the outbreak of war, Schmolka moved to London. Six months later she was dead at age forty-six, having worked herself to a heart attack.
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