HBO Documentary Tells Story of Kindertransport That Saved 50 Children

Film Reveals Philadelphia Family's Role in Daring Rescue

Mission Accomplished: Gilbert Kraus helped to plan the largest Kindertransport to the U.S.
Courtesy of HBO
Mission Accomplished: Gilbert Kraus helped to plan the largest Kindertransport to the U.S.

By Dorothy Brown

Published March 22, 2013, issue of March 29, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

**EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of the 75th anniversary of the kindertransports, we remember the dramatic story of 50 Jewish children’s rescue from the Nazis, which started in Vienna and wound up Philadelphia. **

In early January of 1939, New York businessman Louis Levine traveled to Philadelphia to meet with Gilbert Kraus, the man he believed capable of carrying out a bold plan.

As they sat in Kraus’s law office in the nearly new Bankers Security high-rise at 1315 Walnut Street, Levine laid out his idea: Pry loose visas from the tight-fisted State Department, travel to Germany and bring back 50 Jewish children.

Levine, who was grand master of the Jewish service organization B’rith Sholom, founded in Philadelphia in 1905, knew nothing about immigration law. And Kraus was not an immigration lawyer. But Kraus had three attributes, his granddaughter says, that ultimately resulted in the daring rescue from Vienna of 50 Jewish children, in what would prove to be the largest Kindertransport, or rescue mission, to the United States.

“He had the soul of an artist, the will of a bull and the means to effect things. Put those three things together, and the extraordinary happens,” Liz Perle said of her grandfather.

While The New York Times and other newspapers carried the story of the children’s June 3, 1939, arrival on the S.S. President Harding, the drama that preceded it is only now being told in a documentary film that will air at 9 p.m., April 8, on HBO.

The surprising, heart-wrenching details emerge in “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus,” narrated by Alan Alda and Mamie Gummer. The film is based on a 170-page memoir written by Kraus’s wife, Eleanor. The Philadelphia family kept it in a drawer.

“I grew up knowing the story,” said Perle, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media. But her grandparents were not ones to tout their achievement. “You’d never know they were anything but ordinary people,” she said. “They didn’t talk about it.” Even her cousins, Perle said, knew little about the coup until an uncle’s 80th birthday party, in 2006.

It was only after San Francisco journalist Steve Pressman, whom Perle married in 2001, focused on the manuscript about three years ago that the idea for a film took flight.

Eleanor Kraus “told this incredible story that had been hidden away for years and years,” said Pressman, who began checking the tale against archival records in the State Department and elsewhere. “It was the sound of fiction, but lo and behold, it did happen just as she said it happened.” Previously untold was “how the two of them — particularly Gilbert — figured out how to get 50 kids to the United States at a time when to get Jews in was all but impossible because of immigration laws. That part was never uncovered.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.