Monday marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
The story of a Philadelphia couple’s efforts to intervene and help save lives was told in the HBO documentary “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus,” written, directed, and produced by Steven Pressman.
This week marks the debut of his book, “50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany.” NewsWorks Tonight Host Dave Heller spoke with Steven Pressman about the book. Pressman’s wife is the granddaughter of Gil and Eleanor Kraus who, as private citizens, saved 50 children from genocide by bringing them to the U.S.
“When my wife and I first met several years ago and she shared this with me, I didn’t believe it,” said Pressman. “You know, an American couple from Fitler Square winding up in Nazi Germany.”
Pressman’s book details the journey of the Philadelphia lawyer and his wife to Vienna to bring back 50 children on the eve of the Holocaust in 1939.
“Once they got to Vienna, Gil and Eleanor quickly realized that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of families who were desperate to leave Vienna. The parents were hoping against hope to send their children off with Gil and Eleanor,” says Pressman. “So Gil has this Herculean task of choosing out of all of those children the 50 that he knew he was limited to.”
Among the many bureaucratic hurdles was the extensive anti-Semitic sentiment in the U.S. at the time, which appeared even in the ranks of government.
“The U.S. State Department was filled with folks who were quite openly anti-Semitic and had little interest in allowing at least large numbers of Jewish refugees into this country,” Pressman said.
There were some helpful officials in the State Department and in Congress who helped the Krauses "back channel" the Jewish children. About half of them are still living today.
“They’re all in their mid- to upper '80s, some of them are quite vibrant … children, grandchildren, and in some cases great-grandchildren," Pressman said. "So it’s been quite a legacy for Gil and Eleanor themselves, in terms of the lives saved from those original group of 50 children.”