Gil Kraus was a Jewish business lawyer in Philadelphia. But when the head of the Jewish fraternal order Brith Sholom approached him in 1939, it wasn’t for business advice. Instead, Louis Levine had a proposition for Kraus. Brith Sholom (of which Kraus was a member) had recently built a 25-bedroom dwelling in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. It had been intended as a home for the elderly, but at the moment was standing empty. Did Kraus think he could find a way to evacuate some Jewish children from Nazi Germany and house them there, instead?
Kraus did. And the story of how he found a loophole in immigration law and traveled with his wife, Eleanor, to save 50 children from the Third Reich is told in Steven Pressman’s new book, 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany.
Pressman discovered this history through chance. Shortly after Pressman met Liz Perle, who would one day become his wife, she showed him an inch-thick cardboard binder full of onionskin paper. It was a manuscript, written by her grandmother Eleanor Kraus, detailing the whole harrowing saga. Once Pressman verified that this was indeed a true story, he was fascinated.
A decade later, Pressman was able to turn the story in the documentary 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, which aired on HBO. But as he tells ABA Journal podcast editor Lee Rawles, much had to be left out of the movie. In his new book, he was able to expand on many parts of the story. Pressman has been able to locate and determine the fates of 37 of the rescued children, and included in the book are many pictures and personal remembrances from them.
The 50 children whom the Krauses were able to evacuate from Vienna in the spring of 1939 were the largest single group of unaccompanied Jewish children to be admitted to the United States during the Holocaust. From 1933-1945, because of strict immigration quotas, only about 1,100 unaccompanied Jewish children were allowed into the country; about 1.5 million children were killed in the Nazis’ Final Solution, Pressman says.
In this podcast, Pressman discusses the loophole Kraus found to obtain visas for the children; the obstacles Kraus and other would-be rescuers faced; and how the anti-Semitic climate in the United States affected immigration law during that period.
LIFE: “‘50 Children’: An American Couple’s Mission to Save Kids from the Third Reich” (slideshow)
Wall Street Journal (sub. req.): “Book Review: ‘50 Children’ by Steven Pressman”
San Jose Mercury News: “Steven Pressman’s ‘50 Children’ is an account of young lives rescued from the Holocaust”
USA Today: “‘50 Children’ remembers forgotten Holocaust rescue mission”