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.