Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Book Review: '50 Children' by Steven Pressman
Steven Pressman's wife, Liz, had a maternal grandmother, Eleanor Kraus who was married to Gil, a successful attorney. The Krauses were prominent and affluent members of Philadelphia society during the thirties. Louis Levine, the head of Brith Sholom, a national Jewish fraternal organization, approached Gil with an outrageous idea--to arrange for the legal transport of fifty Jewish youngsters from Nazi Germany to the United States. Considering the restrictive quotas that kept all but a trickle of Jewish refugees from coming to America, there was little chance this plan would work. However, Levine, Gil, Eleanor, and other compassionate individuals were determined to cut through the red tape and circumvent the obstructionist officials and naysayers who stood in their way.
In the spring of 1939, Gil and, later, Eleanor traveled to Berlin and Vienna to carry out their mission. Fortunately for historians, Eleanor wrote a manuscript in which she provided a detailed account of what they did and who helped them along the way. Steven Pressman's book, "Fifty Children," is based on Eleanor's unpublished memoir and also on additional information that the author obtained from both primary and secondary sources..
Pressman eloquently and lucidly outlines the ways in which Hitler's rise to power made life for Jews in Germany and Austria increasingly precarious. As time passed, the Nazis tightened the noose--by depriving Jews of their basic rights and freedoms, confiscating their businesses and personal possessions, and threatening them with arrest, torture, deportation, and death. Gil Kraus had a monumental task--to select fifty out of hundreds of applicants; secure visas for each child; prove that there were sponsors who would pay for the children's food, clothing, and shelter; and identify suitable foster parents willing to take the young immigrants into their homes. "50 Children" is well documented and has an excellent bibliography, evocative photographs, and a thorough index. This is a poignant, enlightening, and inspiring work of non-fiction that, once again, shows how compassionate and tenacious individuals can, against all odds, sometimes accomplish miracles.
Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right