Knowing it had generated a good deal of positive buzz over the last six months or so, it was hard for me to resist Steven Pressman’s 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany when I spied a copy prominently displayed on the shelf during one of my weekend visits to the public library. Besides that, after reading a half-dozen of Alan Furst’s Night Soldiers novels I was in the mood for a little nonfiction dealing with the Nazi Reich on the eve of WW II. Plus, I could also feature the book as part of the Immigrant Stories Reading Challenge. So of COURSE I grabbed it! I mean come on, what else was I supposed to do?
Published in April of this year, 50 Children tells the story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish-American couple from Philadelphia who in the spring of 1939 traveled to Vienna in hopes of bringing 50 Jewish children to safety in America. In order for them and their allies to pull off this bold rescue not only would they need the permission of the Nazis but also ironically the US government, which at the time was firmly opposed to allowing even a modest number of Jewish refugees to enter the country. (For this Pressman blames the American public’s strong feelings of isolationism and fears that refugees could compete for jobs in the weakened Depression-era economy. Within the US government the existence of a number of Anti-Semitic officials and elected leaders, combined with wide-spread indifference were also contributing factors.) Gilbert and Eleanor would also need money, help from sympathetic elements within the US State Department and assistance from Vienna’s endangered Jewish community. And a whole lot of luck.
50 Children is one of those well-written and I suspect well-edited books that you fly through almost effortlessly. Even though I read it while I was on vacation it still seemed like I ripped through the thing in almost no time. I’m happy to report that after hearing all the positive buzz about 50 Children in the end I was not disappointed.