An Unexpected Family: ’50 Children’ Documents a Holocaust Miracle

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, TV.


A new documentary about a bright spot in one of humanity’s darker periods premieres on HBO.

50children-hboCommemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus, the new documentary by Steve Pressman, recounts the story of Eleanor and Gilbert Kraus. Some may know of this Philadelphia couple who helped rescue, as the moving film’s title indicates, fifty young children out of Austria during the Nazi occupation in 1939. Six-time Emmy-winner Alan Alda narrates the harrowing work, which also includes readings from Eleanor’s journals – a precious artifact – by the actress Mamie Gummer. (Pressman and Alda were also on-hand at a preview screening last week in the HBO building to celebrate the film.)

The documentary chronicles, with clear-eyed narrative, the hurdles the Krauses encountered both from the American government as wells as in Berlin and Vienna, where the Jewish couple had to go to complete their rescue act. As much recent literature has pointed out, then-president Franklin Roosevelt was not completely for saving the Jewish prisoners under Nazi rule. 50 Children also examines the anti-Semitism prevalent in the United States at that time. The Krauses also encountered fellow Jews angry at them for rocking the boat instead of remaining still and silent.

The most harrowing moments in the Pressman’s film arrive when the Krauses do in Austria: taking the children from their parents was a necessary evil. Losing their children meant hopefully saving their lives. To Pressman’s credit, he maintains the complete pathos of this situation without ever veering into manipulative territory. Nine of the surviving children – now septuagenarians and octogenarians – are also interviewed in 50 Children. They recognize that the Krauses gave them life, and remind us that rescue missions involve two parties – those who must escape to survive, and those more fortunate ones willing to take them in (we New Yorkers were recently reminded of this at a more local level during and after Hurricane Sandy just last fall). There are many messages to be found in this worthy doc, but that one that rings the clearest is this reminder: we’re all in this together.

Further information about 50 Children can be found at www.hbo.com.

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