Myth-busting was an unexpected bonus at the April 3 New York premiere of HBO’s documentary “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus” held at HBO’s New York headquarters. Among the guests: film director Steven Pressman, film narrator Alan Alda and Dr. Edwin Tepper and Henny Wenkart, whom the Krauses brought to the U.S. from Vienna in 1939. Pressman, who is married to the Krauses’ granddaughter Liz Perle, lauded the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as an “invaluable partner.” Museum director Sara Bloomfield, who welcomed multigenerational members of the Kraus family, said [the museum] was delighted to be a part of this film. “This is a lucky film for us…a lucky break for HBO,” Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films told the guests. “What makes you cry [and] breathe in this film is the nobility of the Krauses who saved 50 children. Can you imagine giving your child away …to cross the Atlantic with strangers!”
“I love this film because it bursts so many myths of that time period,” said Paul Shapiro, Director of USHMM’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, during the post-screening Q and A. “The Netherlands mythology is that every family was hiding Jews like Anne Frank when the reality was that the Dutch police identified the Jews, collected and delivered them over… that in France every Frenchman was in the resistance… and in the United States the most common mythology was that Americans really did not know what was happening. The Krauses were not CIA agents or intelligence operatives [yet] they were reading the newspapers and not closing their eyes… and [in the U.S.] there was nothing we could do yet the British took in 10,000 German children.”
Most dismaying was Shapiro’s observation about the Jewish organizational response. “Here you have great story of a Jewish couple deciding to do something… leaving their children behind. Yet, the other hand, fearful that there will be a backlash [the organizations] more or less systematically worked to dissuade the Krauses — even going to the State Department, and saying ‘Don’t let them do it! Tell them it’s not possible. And — by the way, if it is possible, we want to do it.’”
Shapiro, burst yet another myth of Jewish inaction: “You have the Vienna Jewish community which, the moment the Nazis arrived, organized itself to get the Jews out…. [had] a system in place to identify the children…. By the time of the mass deportations of the Jews from Austria, three-fourths were already out of the country thanks to Jewish response, Jewish activism.”
Shapiro emphasized that the Holocaust museum has all the documentation [plus] “documentation from Vienna which was found in an attic in a building, which had been restituted to the Jewish community 10 years ago. The [Vienna] Jewish community decided to sell the building. Working in the attic, the cleaning crew found 350,000 documents of the Jewish Community of Austria from 1938 to 1942.” The audience gasped.
Addressing a 2,000 strong assemblage at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El at the April 7 “Annual Gathering of Remembrance, In Observance of Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day,” Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general in New York, said “for the first time since the establishment of modern Israel 65 years ago, the number of Jews living in Israel has exceeded the symbolic six million mark! How profound!” He cited Aharon Appelfeld, “one of Israel’s most prolific writers and a survivor himself, who wrote: “‘…Hearing this fills me with joy. But at the same time my heart grieves. We celebrate six million people here in Israel, but we lost six million Jews that once thrived. If it were not for the Shoah, we would have been a bigger nation…. I can only offer my feelings as a Jew…. I come from an assimilated family home, but the Shoah made me a Jew.’”
Introducing newly elected member of Israel’s Knesset, Merav Michaeli, Aharoni said, “Out of its 120 members… 50 of them — like our next speaker — are first time legislators. It is the youngest Knesset with the largest number of female members in Israel’s history.” At the end of her address Michaeli stated: “When we say, ‘Never again!’ it is not just for the Jewish people, but also for everyone.”
Temple Emanu-El’s senior rabbi David Posner (who will be retiring in May) recalled his first Temple-Emanu-El commemoration “ in April 1973 on the 30th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “I was 26… Now I am sixty-five. Every seat was taken.” Tearfully he said: “We now have an entire generation of survivors virtually gone from us and have to look to our children and grandchildren to take on this responsibility.”
Echoing Rabbi Posner’s lament, David Marwell, director, Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and a co-sponsor of the event, observed that though there is still a presence of “many survivors, sadly there are fewer and fewer and the presence of their children and children’s children is a potent demonstration of the exponential power of survival.” He noted “the loss of two people who were important to the gathering — Vladka Meed and her beloved husband Ben Meed who were the driving force behind the move to remember!”
As the Temple Emanu-El’s choir sang “Es Brent” (“It’s Burning”), six survivors — accompanied by children, grandchildren, and families — mounted the bimah with each survivor lighting one of six huge candles. Yet, unlike past years, there were not enough female survivors to light the additional 36 candles, so some lit several candles as, in the background, the choir sang “Ani Ma’amim” (“I Believe”).
The gathering concluded with Cantor Joseph Malovany, the HaZamir Choir conducted by Matthew Lazar, and the entire audience rising to their feet to sing “Zog Nit Keyn Mol” (“Never Say”) — The Partisan Hymn. The event was co-chaired by Rita Lerner and Ann Oster, each a daughter of survivors.