50 Children

061314_mishmash_bookBy Steven Pressman
Harper, 296 pages

Britain justly gets credit for taking in 10,000 European Jewish children between 1938 and 1940 in a project called the Kindertransport. The United States admitted only about 1,000 unaccompanied children, and 50 of them, one in 20, were brought in by one Philadelphia couple, Jewish socialites Gil and Eleanor Kraus.

Those were the “largest single known group of children, traveling without their parents,” legally admitted during the Shoah, says author Steven Pressman, a journalist who earlier produced an HBO documentary on the subject.

Gil Krause and the family’s German-speaking pediatrician, Robert Schless, sailed for Europe on April 7, 1939 — two Jews going into Nazi Germany with no protection but their U.S. passports. In the newly German Austria, they found hundreds of parents desperate to send their children out.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, the Americans and the chosen 50 left for Berlin in late May, still uncertain they would get visas. Thanks to two righteous State Department officials, they did, and the group sailed for New York on a U.S. liner.

Pressman, whose easy-reading account is captivating, says the Krauses’ rescue occurred “within the context of a profoundly hostile social and political environment in the United States that made the achievement all the more stunning — and, sadly, all the more singular.”

Henny Wenkart, one of the 50, puts the tragedy simply: “What people don’t understand is that in the beginning, you could get out. Everyone could get out. But nobody would let us in.”

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