World War II is one of those times in history when ordinary people stepped up and did extraordinary things in an effort to help their fellow man. I have read various stories of different Europeans who chose to hide Jews despite what might happen to them if they were discovered. However, I have heard far less (if anything at all, since I'm racking my brain and can't come up with anything) of Americans who did something to help the Jewish population.
My own grandparents, German farmers in Iowa were busy raising children and milking cows and growing crops. They aren't around for me to ask about this time in history and I have often been curious as to what they knew about the events in their homeland.
Steven Pressman's book, 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany is based on an HBO documentary that shares the story of the Kraus'.
Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were a well-to-do Philadelphia couple who enjoyed their position in the Jewish American community, and who, although Jewish, did not actively practice their faith. Yet, when they realized what was happening to Jews in Europe, the two stepped up to help.
Pressman explains the rigid immigration laws that made leaving both Vienna and Berlin (the two cities to which Gilbert and Eleanor traveled) nearly impossible for Jews. The Kraus' jumped through a variety of hoops in order to help parents send their children to the United States until they could be reunited with them.
50 children were brought to America because of the Kraus'. Pressman uses interviews with surviving children, photographs, and Eleanor Kraus' own unpublished notes about this time to reconstruct the immense undertaking it was for this couple to help such a large number of children.
Although devastatingly sad, 50 Children is also a hopeful book - a look at people at their best as Gilbert and Eleanor selflessly chose to help others.