50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany is an unflinching and heart-stopping look into an unbelievable mission undertaken to make the seemingly impossible possible. Gil and Eleanor Kraus, a normal upper-class Jewish couple living in Philadelphia in 1939, ventured out of their comfortable existence into the terror of Nazi occupied Vienna and Berlin, pushing through every possible obstacle and danger put before them, to legally bring the largest group of children without their parents into an America who didn’t seem overly concerned with their dire plight. Because of their bravery and unselfishness these 50 children – and many of their family members who were able to obtain American visas after the children arrived in America – lived a full life while many others like them unable to escape the Nazi death machine that soon followed would not. This is an unbelievable story made all the more poignant because it is completely true.
While so many of us know the general history behind the Nazi’s plan to rid Europe of their Jewish population some might be surprised by the fact that, at least in 1939, Germany was allowing the Jewish people to leave Europe and the difficulty, sadly enough, was in finding a country that would allow them a place to escape to. I, for one, had no idea that there were strict immigration laws that restricted the number of individuals that could immigrate into the United States every year, that there was a large population of Americans with strong anti-Semitic leaning influencing those making the rules in government and that the government did very little to assist organizations and individuals working to rescue those being persecuted by Hitler and his regime. This was absolutely horrifying to me and really helped to underscore the hard work and determination that went into this astronomical project. The fact that Gil Kraus refused to back down under the weight of this task is beyond admirable.
50 Children is a fully encompassing portrait of not only the logistical and political hoops the participants went through but the emotional and physical toll it took on all parties involved. Mixed in with Krauses’ story is the story of many of the children as well, told from their perspective and detailing what their life was life before, during and after the rescue. I think reading their words as well as the side notes and extensive afterword regarding the fates of many of the children and those that assisted the Krauses during this journey really brought the hope, fear and sorrow home and made me feel for each of the people involved, some of which did not survive the Holocaust that would soon occur.
Steven Pressman, the writer of 50 Children, also wrote, directed and produced the documentary 50 Children for HBO. I was able to watch this documentary and if you are at all able to watch it after reading 50 Children I urge you to do so. Interviewing many of the survivors and well as the Krauses’ son and granddaughter the story is brought to life like only a documentary can do and I was struck to the core at the bravery of not only the Krauses but the parents of the children who they rescued. As the mother of a nine year old I cried hearing their story and seeing their pictures before me and could not even imagine how I would react to the situation if it was placed upon my shoulders.
50 Children is a must read for anyone who hungers for the truth of what happened in the early days of WWII and wants to read a true story of determination and survival against all odds. Highly recommended.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.