Overview: 50 CHILDREN: THE RESCUE MISSION OF MR. AND MRS. KRAUS tells the dramatic, previously untold story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who followed their conscience, traveling to Nazi-controlled Vienna in spring 1939 to save a group of children. Amidst the impending horrors of the Holocaust, they put themselves in harm’s way to bring what would become the single largest-known group of children allowed into the U.S. during that time.
What got this story to be told by filmmaker Steven Pressman was his relationship with the Kraus’s granddaughter Liz Perle. She is his wife and he uses her on camera to help tell the tale of this daring rescue. The Kraus’s adventure is chronicled by Eleanor’s own hand via a journal she wrote.
Expectations: Out of the annuals of heroism and intrigue about WWII comes many a story. And this story of the 50 children out of Vienna, Austria and their liberators has gone untold until 2010 when it was put to film. The script for this story was that journal and it is this premise that sets up, for me, an interesting film.
Clearly, I expect the Kraus family to define for us what kind of couple Gilbert & Eleanor were and how they gained support for their cause as well as give us step-by-step instructions on how they carried it out. The press release for this documentary states that some of the then children survive today to add their perspective. I think that should be a nice touch.
Review: 50 CHILDREN: was surprisingly refreshing as documentaries go. That is not the intent of the piece I am sure but, that is what I felt at first. It was refreshing due to the style of documentary it was. As of late, all of HBO’s documentary films have been films told through the eyes of the camera, first person style. This film takes on the Ken Burns style of filming. It uses archival footage and still photography to play out the times. It also employs Alan Alda as narrator and, in a nice turn, Mamie Gummer as the voice of Eleanor Kraus reading from the journal.
What surprised me about the piece was not so much the dangerous climate in Austria, but the atmosphere in the U. S. A. towards even wanting to share in the Kraus’s goal of bringing the children to safety. They pulled strings and made allies to get visas for the selected children and that process seemed as though it was harder to do than getting the children out of Nazi territory. What was of interest as well was as quickly as the idea popped into Gilbert’s head after the plan was carried out it went just as quickly out of his head and he and his Mrs. continued with their lives as if it never happened.
The mix of archival media and the words of Alda and Gummer make for a nice story in the end. Also, as hoped, the now adult children add warmth to the story that this bold rescue was not in vain. It is a good sixty-four minutes of your time.
In Conclusion: Steven Pressman worked with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and archives in Israel to find old footage and photos of the Kraus’s, and of rarely shown street scenes from Nazi Germany and Austria. It was also through the Museum he was able to track down some of the surviving children now in their 70’s and 80’s. The film premiered on HBO on 04.08 – Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Other HBO air dates include 04.11 at 12:30am; 04.12 at 4:30pm; 04.15 at 11:30am; 04 18 at 12:30pm; 04.20 at 2:30pm and 04.28 at 11:30am. You can also find it on HBO2 and HBOGo.