03 July 2014

50 Children by Steven Pressman, Book review

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 22, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062237477


    Based on the acclaimed HBO documentary, the astonishing true story of how one American couple transported fifty Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Austria to America in 1939—the single largest group of unaccompanied refugee children allowed into the United States—for readers of In the Garden of Beasts and A Train in Winter.
    In early 1939, America's rigid immigration laws made it virtually impossible for European Jews to seek safe haven in the United States. As deep-seated anti-Semitism and isolationism gripped much of the country, neither President Roosevelt nor Congress rallied to their aid.
    Yet one brave Jewish couple from Philadelphia refused to silently stand by. Risking their own safety, Gilbert Kraus, a successful lawyer, and his stylish wife, Eleanor, traveled to Nazi-controlled Vienna and Berlin to save fifty Jewish children. Steven Pressman brought the Kraus's rescue mission to life in his acclaimed HBO documentary, 50 Children. In this book, he expands upon the story related in the hour-long film, offering additional historical detail and context to offer a rich, full portrait of this ordinary couple and their extraordinary actions.
    Drawing from Eleanor Kraus's unpublished memoir, rare historical documents, and interviews with more than a dozen of the surviving children, and illustrated with period photographs, archival materials, and memorabilia, 50 Children is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.

    (Group photo aboard the S.S.Harding)

    My thoughts:

    My initial reaction to Steven Pressman's account of 50 lives saved by one couple was that 1.5 million Jewish children died during the Holocaust! I only had to browse through the photos included in his novel to notice that the Wagner-Roger bill which would have allowed 20,000 of them into the USA was met with FDR's handwritten response to his assistant's memo: "File no action." (additional information HERE)

    It is a known fact that no country wanted to take responsibility to provide shelter to Jews. The little window of opportunity Gil and Eleanor Kraus used therefore must surely have been divinely blessed. I like to believe it was His way to make sure the survivors would tell the rest of the world of what was happening as they arrived safely on 3 June, 1939 in New York's harbour!

    Pressman rightfully emphasize the countless tribulations of those 50 Children rescued by the Kraus from Nazi persecution.  In his novel you will discover a remarkable amount of photos, documents and related interviews. It is noted that the author took the greatest care in presenting his findings to appraise the world of the handful of people courageous enough to take a stand.

    More arresting even is the undisputed discrimination against American Jews in a nation which prides itself in welcoming anyone. Faced with such prejudice and the added reluctance of their government to grant visas, the Kraus' rescue mission takes on new dimension.
    Their determination is to be remembered in view of all the obstacles they surmounted to reach their ultimate goal: Giving the greatest gift of all, life!

    Through memoirs, documents and interviews Pressman brings the world an amazing tale of courage beginning with the children's parents: I cannot imagine for a moment giving my children away but better to do just that than having them suffer and face eventual death in the hands of fanatics. Such a heartbreaking choice!

    Some children were reunited with their loved ones apparently but not everyone was thus blessed. Pressman was able to find adequate information on 37 of the sponsored children, some who still lived at the time of the publication of his book/documentary, some who had already passed away. He is still searching for the thirteen remaining unaccounted for.

    And while the Kindertransport brought 10,000 children to England, only 1000 to 1200 were admitted in the US.

    Haunting facts such as 200,000 European refugees, mostly Jews admitted between 1933 and 1945 reminds us also that hundreds of thousands of additional lives lost in the ashes of the Holocaust might well  have been saved had the US been more generous.

    From a bystander point of view, it is hard to acknowledge so many perished including the one and half million children, simply because they were Jews. 

    A concise compilation of what happens when determination wins over fear, this true story should be remembered as one bearing all signs of tremendous courage! 

    4 Stars!

    (Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus - Source Google)

    Meet the Author:

    Steven Pressman was a magazine and newspaper journalist for more than thirty years. He is the author ofOutrageous 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.

    Note: This was a library loan and reflects only my opinion!


    1. Great review! I have this book but haven't read it yet. It's heartbreaking to think about all those children, but stories like these always give me some hope.

      1. Thank you Anna. As you probably got from my review I had a very hard time getting over the numbers...Each precious soul was saved for a reason but my heart breaks thinking of all the others...
        All the best,


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