The story is extraordinarily moving, and it's quite amazing that it has not been made known prior to the making of this film. Apparently Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were quiet, modest people who took action when they felt it was necessary, but did not feel the need to seek publicity for their good deeds. So this documentary brings public recognition of their heroism for the first time.
The film was directed by first time helmer Steven Pressman, a journalist who knew of the story because he is married to Gilbert and Eleanor's granddaughter, Liz Perle, who knows the story intimately and is interviewed in the film.
The film is based on Eleanor's unpublished memoir, which Perle shared with Pressman several years ago. They decided that the story should be made known to keep knowledge of the Shoah alive. This documentary should certainly accomplish that goal.
The Story of the RescueThe year was 1939. The Nazis had assumed control of Vienna, and reports of their atrocious treatment of Jews filled the media.
Gilbert, a level-headed lawyer, understood the need for the immediate rescue of Jewish children from Vienna. At the time, the Nazis were allowing Jews to leave Austria, but Mr. Kraus rightly assumed that they would soon change their policy and prohibit any exodus. This was the prelude to the Shoah.
Mr. Kraus' plan was audacious, and he was persistent in carrying it out. While Eleanor recruited sponsors who would sign affidavits that they would be responsible for one or more of the children, Gilbert went to Vienna to find 25 girls and 25 boys whose parents were willing to send them to America with a total stranger, and who were healthy and well adjusted enough to make the trip to America, leaving their parents and siblings and everyone and everything else they knew behind. Time was pressing and he had so much work that he had to send for Eleanor to come to help him, although initially he'd thought the trip to be too dangerous for her. When he'd selected 50 children, he was told by U.S. immigration authorities that they would not issue visas for them because certain immigration quotas had been filled. Mr. Kraus found a solution. He discovered that there were a number of visas that had been issued to Austrian Jews, but had not been used by the designated recipients. Mr. Kraus convinced authorities to reissue those unused visas for the Jewish children. Without the intervention of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, the children would surely have perished in the Shoah.
Telling the StoryIt would be difficult for Pressman not to be reverential in his approach to telling the Kraus family story. And that will be equally difficult for audiences who watch it to refrain from being reverential.
Mr. and Mrs. Kraus deserve huge respect and the story of how they saved children from the Shoah should be treated with reverence. The story is well told in this well made documentary.
In addition to the voice over narrative of excerpts from Eleanor's memoir, which is read by actress Mamie Gummer, and the voice of God narration that's read by Alan Alda, Pressman uses a wealth of archival material -- family photos and home movies, archival footage shot in Berlin and Vienna and documents -- to bring the story of the Kraus mission to life. He also interviews several of the surviving children, who are now in the 80s, but still remember their voyage to the U.S., and how it was to leave their parents to go on this journey to the unknown. The surviving children have a singular perspective on the Holocaust. They know they're alive because Mr. and Mrs. Kraus took action and rescued them. But they are haunted by the memories of leaving loved ones whom they never saw again.
Documenting The Memories
Personal stories from the Holocaust continue to come to light, and it is extremely important that they be documented. They are effective reminders not only about the Nazi atrocities, but also about the importance of resistance against racism, hatred, intolerance and bigotry. And many of them inspire us to think of ways in which we, like Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, might take action to make the world a better place. 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus is a beacon of light that we should all follow.
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- Title: 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus
- Director: Steven Pressman
- Broadcast Premiere Date: April 8, 2013
- Running Time: 62 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Location: Philadelphia, New York City, New Jersey, with archival footage shot in Berlin, Vienna and elsewhere
- Language: English
- Company: HBO Documentaries