50 CHILDREN by Steven Pressman

50 CHILDREN: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany
Steven Pressman
Harper Collins
April 22, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th emphasizes the response of Americans to the widespread persecution of the Jews in Europe. A recently published book by Steven Pressman, 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany, is a gripping story. The author superbly intertwines the events of the Nazi tyranny towards the Jews with the theme of hope, showing how two Jewish Americans, Gil and Eleanor Krause became involved with rescuing refugees in 1939.

It can be viewed as a mystery in the same sense of a Columbo TV episode. People know the outcome but wonder how it will be accomplished, creating intense elements of suspense in the story. The readers know that Gil and Eleanor succeeded but the way Pressman vividly writes the story he makes it clear that these two heroes did not know that success was possible.

The book is based on the HBO documentary 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, yet has a much more in depth description of the Krauses life and the rescue itself. The first part of the book discusses the events in Germany and America that led to the desire by Gil and Eleanor to initiate a plan of rescue. The second part of the book goes into a fascinating account of the rescue itself and how the children were chosen. The author explains that in 1939 Jews were encouraged to leave after all their possessions were seized. The last part of the book allows the readers to get a glimpse of the children’s lives as they adjust to America and afterward.

Pressman is hoping that readers understand that the Krauses faced many obstacles, some obvious and some not so obvious. The obvious is the Nazi regime itself. Readers will also learn how America’s immigration laws, leaders, and different administrative departments prevented many Jews from being rescued. The State Department actively thwarted Jews from legally entering America. Pressman informatively discusses an unforeseen obstacle, the Krauses having to deal with their fellow American Jews. For some it was pure jealously and for the organizations there were turf wars. Yet, for others it was the constant fear of backlash that Jews had to live under, even in America. The book has a telling public opinion poll, while 95% of the America public was against liberalizing the immigration laws a more telling statistic is that 25% of American Jews also did not want to increase immigration.

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany is a brilliantly written book that takes the reader on a journey back in time. Yet, it is relevant today because Gil and Eleanor’s story proves that individuals with courage and strength can overcome the odds. In this case the fifty children saved by the Krauses turned out to be the single largest group of unaccompanied children brought to America. Everyone should take the time on April 28th to remember that fewer than 1,200 unaccompanied children were allowed into the United States throughout the entire Holocaust, in which 1.5 million children perished. Steven Pressman’s book does just that and is a very insightful read.

Elise Cooper