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

(page 2 of 4)

Indeed, everywhere the couple turned, people said it could not be done. But Gilbert Kraus, “above all else, was a stubborn son of a gun with a contrarian streak. If you said, ‘You can’t do that,’ he would say, ‘I’ll find a way,’” said Pressman, who wrote, produced and directed the film.

“He felt passionate about the issue, but it was essentially part of his character — whether America’s government or other Jewish organizations were not keen on the project, his response was, ‘No one’s going to tell me what I can and cannot do.’”

According to Pressman, Gilbert Kraus worked State Department connections to strike up a relationship with George Messersmith, who at that time was assistant secretary of state. The outspoken Messersmith (featured in Erik Larson’s best-seller, “In the Garden of Beasts”) had red-flagged the dangers of rising Nazism during his posting as consul general in Berlin from 1930 to 1934. Indeed, at one point he described some of Germany’s leadership, in a cable to Washington, as “psychopathic cases” who “would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.”

Messersmith, who served in Vienna from 1934 to 1937, advised Kraus to focus there, Pressman said. Kraus argued that so-called “dead-number” visas — issued but unused as people died, were arrested or traveled to other countries — should be freed up for the children.

As Kraus was working the legal end of things, his wife was working her social ties, trying to get families to sign affidavits to host and support the children, should they ever get out.

It’s a role that Perle cannot imagine undertaken by her elegant grandmother. “She had to go to her fancy society friends and ask for money, which you just didn’t do,” Perle said. “She was not one to call on her friends and ask an enormous favor.”

B’rith Sholom’s Philadelphia lodges also held fundraisers such as sporting events and poker nights to raise money, said the organization’s national president, Joel Rosenberg. At least $150,000 was raised, he said, but the organization has been unable to calculate the total cost. “We couldn’t get clear records going that far back,” he said recently.

With war imminent, the 34-year-old Eleanor Kraus was “thrilled” Perle said, when the State Department warned her not to travel with her husband to Europe. Besides, she had two small children at home. After sailing to Europe in early April, 1939, he wired his wife from Vienna that he really needed her help. She boarded the next boat.


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!
  • 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
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • 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.