In the spring of 1939, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus embarked on a risky and unlikely mission. Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, they rescued 50 Jewish children from Vienna and brought them to the United States.
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As Adolf Hitler tightened his control over Europe in early 1939, Jews living inside Nazi Germany and Austria were increasingly desperate to escape. But restrictive immigration policies in effect in the United States made it all but impossible for more than a handful to find freedom here. Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia, were determined to do what they could to help bring a group of children into the safety of America. Against all odds, the couple came up with a rescue plan aimed at bringing 50 Jewish children out of Vienna and into the safety of the United States. This documentary film tells a dramatic story that has never been told before -- how one courageous couple saved the lives of 50 children on the eve of the Holocaust. Written by
This is an HBO film. Steven Pressman, who is married to Liz Perle--a granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, has made his first movie about Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus of Philadelphia who in January of 1939 decided to attempt the rescue of 50 Jewish children from Austria. This is only months after the Nov 10, 1938 Kristallnacht--Night of Broken Glass. This at a time of fervent anti-Semitism in America, a time when letting foreigners into America was frowned upon; a time when President Roosevelt, while encouraging that quota for immigration be fulfilled, the quota were not to be extended. The local Philadelphia Jewish Council thought the idea dangerous--Jews going into Nazi Germany could very well mean not getting out of Nazi Germany.
In the end, through the prodding of American embassy personnel and Nazi functionaries visas for 50 Jewish Children were obtained. This means the children had to leave brothers and sisters and parents for an unknown adventure for a guaranteed life of safety. Mr. Pressman had found 9 of 50 children--now in their 80s, and their observations and recollections make for very moving testimony of what was involved, of what being Jewish in Vienna meant after the Anschluss in 1938. The movie records with archival footage and home movies of events that occurred from May to June of 1939 when the children actually left Europe for the safety of America.
Alan Alda gives a very low key narration, Mammie Gummer as the voice of Eleanor Kraus was equally low key. No histrionics here. The musical score by Marco D'Ambrosio was especially moving enhancing the tone of mourning the entire episode represents.
There is always something moving about orphans and those who rescue orphans. Whether it is "Father Flanagan's Boy's Town," "Orphan Train" which recorded the transport of New York abandoned waifs being transported by train to the West to find families; or the KinderTransport of Jewish Children in Nazi occupied Europe to British families--the story always touches the heart strings. This documentary is an excellent addition to that heart rending story.
Hamlet says: "There is a divinity that shapes are ends, rough-hew them how we will." I always suspect, orphans know exactly what those words mean.
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