Friday, February 28, 2014

50 Children by Steven Pressman

Based on the acclaimed HBO documentary, the astonishing true story of how one American couple transported fifty Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Austria to America in 1939—the single largest group of unaccompanied refugee children allowed into the United States—for readers of In the Garden of Beasts and A Train in Winter.
In early 1939, America's rigid immigration laws made it virtually impossible for European Jews to seek safe haven in the United States. As deep-seated anti-Semitism and isolationism gripped much of the country, neither President Roosevelt nor Congress rallied to their aid.
Yet one brave Jewish couple from Philadelphia refused to silently stand by. Risking their own safety, Gilbert Kraus, a successful lawyer, and his stylish wife, Eleanor, traveled to Nazi-controlled Vienna and Berlin to save fifty Jewish children. Steven Pressman brought the Kraus's rescue mission to life in his acclaimed HBO documentary, 50 Children. In this book, he expands upon the story related in the hour-long film, offering additional historical detail and context to offer a rich, full portrait of this ordinary couple and their extraordinary actions.
Drawing from Eleanor Kraus's unpublished memoir, rare historical documents, and interviews with more than a dozen of the surviving children, and illustrated with period photographs, archival materials, and memorabilia, 50 Children is a remarkable tale of personal courage and triumphant heroism that offers a fresh, unique insight into a critical period of history.

I must start by saying when I selected this book I did not know it was non-fiction.  My expectations were for something more along the lines of a Philippa Gregory, a fictitious portrayal of real people and a real story.  Even with this misconception I enjoyed this book. I also did not know that there was a film covering the same topic and have plans to watch it in the near future.
WWII has always fascinated me.  Why did this happen, what possessed Hitler, how come more people didn't fight back.  The story of 50 Children answered some of these questions for me. I was glued to the book when Steven started covering American Immigrations laws of the time.  He laid out, in a not so positive light on America, why Jews couldn't just leave Nazi controlled areas.  The policy of quotas per country and that everyone must be self sufficient (no monetary aid needed).  It was interesting to learn about this portion of American history.
The book is broken down into three sections, 1) The Plan, 2) The Rescue, and 3) New Lives.  Each section is tightly written with loads of information and a smattering (I could have used more) of insight into who Gil and Eleanor Kraus were. Some of the insight into who Eleanor Kraus was made her look extremely shallow.  Perhaps more so than intended because of the heavy nature of the book.
Like many non-fiction books there are a plethora of names, all of which I couldn't grasp onto and keep in my mind through the duration of the book.  However, those that were most important I was able to follow.  On this topic there were also some characters that were thrown in and not used, Dr. Robert Schless went with Gil to Vienna but he is hardly ever mentioned at all.  And then there is Hedy Neufeld who aids the Kraus' and is only briefly covered.
The book closes by highlighting a number of the children and how they lived their lives after coming to America. 
For those interested in WWII and intrigued by rescue stories and the brave men and women behind them then this is a must read. 
50 Children will be available for purchase April 22nd. 
I received an advanced readers copy in return for an honest review.
I'm linking up with
Come Join us!
The Friday 56, Book Beginnings, Literary Friday
Book Beginnings
On a late April morning, as rain smeared the windowpanes, washed the dirt off the sidewalks, and slowed traffic on every block in New York City, twenty-seven-year-old Corinne Saybrook stood barefoot in a dressing room, talking on her cell phone in clipped, precise Turkish.
pg 11 (previous pages are a prologue) of The Heiresses
The Friday 56
Compared to Poppy's feminine touches in their own place, Rowan's apartment looked like the inside of a cigar box. It wasn't lost on her, either, that James hadn't seen this place in years.
pg. 56 of The Heiresses


gautami tripathy said...

This sounds like something I would love to pick up...

Here is my Book Beginning post!

Linda Wildenstein said...

This is truly an amazing story of special people who risked so much and wanted to save so many more. It is a wonderful read. Oma Linda

JC Jones said...

50 Children sounds like an exciting read. We forget how our history was and is not always welcoming to people in trouble. Here is my post: Mixed Book Bag

Sandra Nachlinger said...

I have recently started reading a few nonfiction books and have been surprised by how much I've enjoyed them. I'm sure 50 CHILDREN would be fascinating. THE HEIRESS sounds like a good story too. The opening made me curious: why is she barefoot? and why is she speaking Turkish?
Here's the link to my Friday post: WILD. It's nonfiction.

Yvonne said...

Great 56 and very descriptive!

addictedtolore said...

I'm happily reading non-fiction at the moment. I tend to switch backwards and forwards just to try andlearn something inbetween fun books. This sounds like an excellent book and I thank you for blogging it so that I can look out for it.

fredamans said...

50 children is a book I would love to see.
The Heiress is interesting too though. Heiress to what I wonder...

Happy weekend!

Art @ Home said...

I definitely want to read this one. It sounds fascinating! I think they're truly heroes saving the children. I want to see the documentary, too.

How in the world could Eleanor seem shallow? Now I want to know!

Thanks so much for linking-up to Literary Friday! We've been in New Orleans since Friday @ Mardi Gras. Happy to be home!


Grace @ Sense and Simplicity said...

50 Children sounds like an interesting read. Eleanor Kraus can't have been too shallow if she helped to rescue 50 children. I always wonder if I would have risen to the occasion or not.