50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany was truly a remarkable story of a couple’s courage and dedication to do what they thought was right. Gil and Eleanor Kraus were a Jewish couple living in Philadelphia who were struck by the atrocities impacting European Jews in 1939. Gil was so determined to do something to help those in need that he decided to travel to Nazi occupied Europe to bring 50 Jewish children to the United States. Deciding to risk his life was the easy part, obtaining the visas and traveling in Europe was beyond difficult.
The first part of the book focused on the obstacles Gil had to overcome to obtain the authority from the U.S. government to help these children, and was extremely eye opening. I was stunned to learn about the lengths to which the U.S. Government went to prevent not just these children from immigrating here, but Jews in general. Our country’s anti-Semitic attitude against Jews is not openly discussed, so learning the scope of the truth was shocking. Some of the ignorant comments made my politicians and the propaganda from our own new sources rivaled that of the Nazis. Early on Gil decided it was too dangerous for Eleanor to accompany him, but once he arrived in Europe and saw how complicated it would be to arrange the transport, he called his wife and asked her to come over. Their experience walking down the streets of Vienna, which had once been a jubilant city was depressing and scary. Stores were closed, hardly anyone ventured out in public unless absolutely necessary, and the presence of Nazi troops cast a shadow of dread over the town. Although they were Americans, the Krauses were still Jewish, and dinning in establishments that had signs forbidding Jews to eat there made their experience tense.
This story was amazing but it had very little heart. It was packed with facts and figures, two things that made it obvious this was written by a journalist and not a novelist. As for the story of the young children, with fifty kids there wasn’t time to provide a thorough background of everyone, so only a few sentences were allotted to each child. Their inclusion in the book was so brief I couldn’t tell you the name of a single child.
Overall, this was an interesting story, and I appreciated learning about the U.S. The actual rescue and subsequent lives of the children was too brief for me. Here’s a book I can honestly say needed another 100 pages of explanation!