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

Overview

Two Ordinary Americans.
Fifty Innocent Lives.
One Unforgettable Journey.

In early 1939, few Americans were thinking about the darkening storm clouds over Europe. Nor did they have much sympathy for the growing number of Jewish families that were increasingly threatened and brutalized by Adolf Hitler's policies in Germany and Austria.

But one ordinary American couple decided ...

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

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Overview

Two Ordinary Americans.
Fifty Innocent Lives.
One Unforgettable Journey.

In early 1939, few Americans were thinking about the darkening storm clouds over Europe. Nor did they have much sympathy for the growing number of Jewish families that were increasingly threatened and brutalized by Adolf Hitler's policies in Germany and Austria.

But one ordinary American couple decided that something had to be done. Despite overwhelming obstacles—both in Europe and in the United States—Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus made a bold and unprecedented decision to travel into Nazi Germany in an effort to save a group of Jewish children.

Fewer than 1,200 unaccompanied children were allowed into the United States throughout the entire Holocaust, in which 1.5 million children perished. The fifty children saved by the Krauses turned out to be the single largest group of unaccompanied children brought to America.

Drawing from Eleanor Kraus's unpublished memoir, rare historical documents, and interviews with more than a dozen of the surviving children, and illustrated with period photographs, archival materials, and memorabilia, 50 Children is a remarkable tale of personal courage and triumphant heroism that offers a fresh, unique insight into a critical period of history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/03/2014
In this stirring account of determination against overwhelming odds, journalist Pressman (Outrageous Betrayal) expands on his eponymous HBO documentary wherein his wife’s grandparents, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, worked to rescue 50 Viennese Jewish children from occupied territory during the early years of WWII. Drawing from interviews, historical documents, and Eleanor’s private writings, Pressman reconstructs the chain of events, adding background and context. His flowing narrative breathes life into the America and Europe of 1938–1939, placing a spotlight on the impossible circumstances and contradictions of Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish pogroms, as Jews were encouraged to leave yet hindered at every turn. He looks at the obstacles thrown up by American attitudes and policies: isolationism, rigid immigration laws and quotas, and rampant anti-Semitism made it unlikely that the Krauses’ plan would ever work: “During the years when it was possible for Jews to leave Germany for the United States, American public opinion, government insensitivity, lack of interest, and a depressing failure of human compassion all worked against them.” In contrast to his praise for the Krauses for spearheading their small but vital rescue effort, Pressman critiques American intransigence alongside more visible Nazi cruelties, and the whole makes for a story as troublingas it is inspirational. Illus. Agent: Elizabeth Kaplan. (May)
Publishers Weekly
“[A] stirring account of determination against overwhelming odds….[Pressman’s] flowing narrative breathes life into the America and Europe of 1938-1939,….The whole makes for a story as troubling as it is inspirational.”
Kirkus Reviews
“The astonishing story of a Philadelphia couple’s resolve to help bring Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Austria. . . .With a careful eye to detail and dialogue, Pressman vividly re-creates this epic rescue.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-16
The astonishing story of a Philadelphia couple's resolve to help bring Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Austria. Journalist Pressman (Outrageous Betrayal: The Real Story of Werner Erhard from Est to Exile, 1993) is the grandson-in-law of Eleanor and Gilbert Kraus, whose bravery during a dark time is only now coming to light. The Philadelphia lawyer and his wife, both nonreligious Jews from well-to-do families, agreed to help engineer the transfer of Austrian Jewish children to America on behalf of a national Jewish fraternal organization, Brith Sholom, which was deeply concerned about the increasing prosecution of Jews in Germany and Austria. In 1939, the Jews were still being allowed out—that is, if they had the money and connections to emigrate; after "Aryanization," or the seizure of their wealth and goods, few had the means. By late 1938, the murderous intentions of Nazi warnings—"Jews! Abandon all hope. There is only one possibility for you: Emigrate—if someone will accept you"—were made abundantly clear, yet Jews were trapped. The Krauses were warned against venturing to Germany at this time: A prominent Quaker contingent had recently been rebuffed by the Nazis; the U.S. and other nations had tightened restrictions on immigration; and even various Jewish groups and charities tried to convince the couple of the folly and danger of the rescue plan. "One would think we were trying to do something illegal or wicked, even degrading," Eleanor remembered. After securing affidavits from 50 sponsors, completing the vast paperwork and achieving clearance from the State Department, Gil finally left in April 1939 and summoned Eleanor to come shortly after. Making their way through Nazi Germany to Vienna, the couple observed chilling details of the nation's militarization and oppression of the Jews. The details around selection of the children, leave-taking of their parents and the tearful travels are heart-rending, but eventually, they were safely shepherded to a summer camp in Collegeville, Pa. With a careful eye to detail and dialogue, Pressman vividly re-creates this epic rescue.
New York Journal of Books
“It can be challenging to create suspense in a tale for which the ending is known. Pressman does a good job with 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission in the Heart of Nazi Germany, a book whose title pretty much tells it all.”
Military Press
“A brilliantly written book that takes the reader on a journey back in time. Yet, it is relevant today because Gil and Eleanor’s story proves that individuals with courage and strength can overcome the odds. … A very insightful read.”
Wall Street Journal
“Both an extraordinary humanitarian act and a classic tale of American initiative and perseverance....A rich and rewarding read….Pressman paints a moving picture of the rescue.”
Jewish Book Council
“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.”
Sara Nelson
“Excellent…. Pressman, the Krauses’ grandson-in-law, used Eleanor Kraus’s unpublished diaries as well as photographs, documents, and interviews to recreate a historical moment and a heroic act. Like Oskar Schindler and his list, the Krauses and their 50 children will now never be forgotten.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062237477
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 63,441
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Pressman was a magazine and newspaper journalist for more than thirty years. He is the author of Outrageous Betrayal: The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile, and the writer, director, and producer of the HBO documentary film 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus.

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