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50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus

In some ways I am embarrassed to admit that until Thursday evening I had never been inside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am a member of the museum and wrote about its dedication. My father's parents died in Auschwitz. I have visited Dachau and have been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. But something kept me from going to the museum. That changed last Thursday evening with an invitation to a premiere of the HBO documentary 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus. To say it is an amazing film is an understatement. It is a film about love and hope and courage. It is a film about what two regular people can do if they believe they can make a difference and are willing to face the obstacles. Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were a well-off Jewish couple living in Philadelphia in 1939. Gilbert was an attorney and Eleanor a housewife. They had two children. They weren't particularly religious and sent their children to a Quaker school. One day Gilbert came home and told his wife that he had heard about the chance to save children from the Nazis in Vienna, Austria. Hitler had invaded Austria but for a short time the Nazi's were letting the Jews that could, leave. The problem as one of the children that Gilbert and Eleanor saved says so movingly in the film was that "there was nowhere for many of them to go because though they could leave no one wanted to take them". But the Kraus's decided that night that they would try to help 50 children escape to safety in America. The film chronicles the difficulties they had in getting visas for the children, facing even the ire of Jewish organizations who told them not to try. While Gilbert dealt with the legal angles Eleanor worked hard and got 54 friends and acquaintances to file affidavits saying they would take in those children and guarantee their safety and had the finances to support them. One is awed by the courage it took for the Kraus's to make the voyage by boat and train through Nazi Germany to Vienna and to fight in Vienna and then Berlin for those children; first to get the Austrians to give them passports and then the American's to finally give them visas. One of the most poignant moments in the film describes how they chose the children who they would save and the courage of those parents who were willing to send their children to a far-away land, on their own, with people they didn't know. Eleanor Kraus in her diaries says that one of the most moving things for her, and I get tears in my eyes even thinking about it, was that when the children finally boarded the train in Vienna, their parents couldn't even wave goodbye. Jews were not allowed to give the Nazi salute and were they to wave their arm in the air they could be arrested. So they stood there stoically as the train bearing their children left the station, knowing they may never see them again. On Monday night at 9:00 pm EST HBO will be showing this film on-air. I think this film should be seen by everyone and watch it with your children so that future generations will never forget the horror of the Holocaust. But just as importantly they will see that one person's cruelty can beget another's love and heroism. As a first generation American I know that story well. My mother and her parents escaped the Nazis in Vienna by clandestine means. One of their friends got my mother and grandmother visas to go to London, and eventually they made it to America, where two years later my grandfather was able to join them.