50 Chil­dren: One Ordi­nary Amer­i­can Cou­ple’s Extra­or­di­nary Res­cue Mis­sion into the Heart of Nazi Germany

  • Review
By – April 28, 2014

In this high­ly read­able, care­ful­ly researched book, Steven Press­man presents a sober­ing account of the tremen­dous obsta­cles faced by Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus of Philadel­phia, who set out to bring fifty Jew­ish chil­dren from Vien­na to the Unit­ed States in the late 1930s. The Kraus­es were unde­terred despite stiff immi­gra­tion quo­tas, innu­mer­able bureau­crat­ic obsta­cles, anti-Semit­ic State Depart­ment offi­cials, and oppo­si­tion by Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions as well as ordi­nary Americans.

The plan took shape when an offi­cial of an orga­ni­za­tion called Brith Sholom asked one of its mem­bers, suc­cess­ful lawyer Gib­ert Kraus, to assist in res­cu­ing fifty Jew­ish chil­dren from Nazi Ger­many. While he tried to fig­ure out how to bring the chil­dren into the Unit­ed States with­in America’s restric­tive immi­gra­tion quo­tas, Kraus noticed a dis­crep­an­cy between the num­ber of visas issued and the num­ber of Jews who actu­al­ly entered the Unit­ed States. His inge­nious plan was to reserve fifty of these unused visas for the res­cue effort.

The reluc­tance of Amer­i­ca to open its door to Jews before and dur­ing the Holo­caust is well-known, but Press­man delves into the details of the almost insur­mount­able obsta­cles fac­ing Jews who were des­per­ate to escape Vien­na and Berlin as their lives grew more har­row­ing by the day. He depicts wrench­ing scenes of par­ents who were eager to send their chil­dren away with the Kraus­es, despite the like­li­hood that they would nev­er see them again. The par­ents could not even wave good­bye to their chil­dren as the train pulled out, since a wave resem­bled the Nazi salute, for­bid­den to Jews. Juden Ver­boten” signs were every­where, bar­ring Jews from restau­rants, movies, and parks. The Kraus­es them­selves were in dan­ger; they trav­eled to Vien­na and Berlin with­out any assur­ance that they would be safe (they had to deal direct­ly with the Gestapo), leav­ing two young chil­dren of their own back home in Philadelphia.

The por­trait of the Kraus­es that emerges is one of incred­i­ble resource­ful­ness, per­se­ver­ance, brav­ery, and moti­va­tion to save lives. Pressman’s deeply affect­ing account is a trib­ute to a cou­ple whose hero­ic efforts were a bea­con of light dur­ing a time of unremit­ting dark­ness for the Jew­ish peo­ple. After­word, bib­li­og­ra­phy, illus­tra­tions, notes.

Shi­ra R. Lon­don is the librar­i­an at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Com­mu­ni­ty High School in Bal­ti­more, MD. She holds an M.L.S. from Colum­bia University.

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