Monday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the untold story of the largest transport of Jewish children to the United States to escape Nazi persecution is being told in new documentary, called "50 Children", that debuts Monday on HBO and can be seen throughout this month. The documentary includes the amazing account of a New Yorker who got out but never forgot. NY1's Stephanie Simon filed the following report.
There are really two stories to be told about the new documentary "50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus."
The film itself tells the real-life events of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who traveled to Nazi Germany in 1939 to save 50 Jewish children, including Henny Wenkart, who is now 84 and lives in New York.
"I never got over it because I had to make a decision to leave my parents and sister in danger and save my own skin, and I did that," Wenkart says.
The film is narrated by Alan Alda and explores the complex and dangerous hurdles the couple faced trying to get visas for the children.
The making of the film is also fascinating. First-time filmmaker Steven Pressman is married to Liz Perle. She is the granddaughter of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus. She says that growing up, her family knew the story, but no one really talked about it. She says her grandparents weren't saints, but her grandfather had the means, the motive and the moxie to save the children.
"He roped my grandmother into it," Perle says. "She was not as determined initially. She was scared to death. But she also had two kids at home. And I don’t think they set out to do this for any other reason than it was the right thing to do."
Eleanor wrote down the entire saga, but her memoir sat in a drawer for many years until Pressman decided make the documentary based on the diary and additional research.
"It was surprising to learn of other Jewish leaders and organizations themselves who also stepped in and said, 'Not sure this is a good idea. This is going to maybe create some backlash.' There was a lot of anti-Semitism in the United States in the 1930s," Pressman says. "In keeping with the moxie of Gilbert Kraus, he stood up to them and said, 'No one's going to tell me what I can or cannot do.'"
The filmmaker said as he put the pieces of the puzzle together, he was also able to fill in the blanks for the grown children. Surprisingly, the children never knew most of the details of their escape until now.
New Yorker Remembers Her Rescue By The Kraus Family
TWC News: New Documentary Tells Story Of Transport Of Jewish Children During Holocaust
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One of the 50 children saved by Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus is Henny Wenkart, an 84-year-old former teacher. She has lived in the city for the past 30 years and taught philosophy at Stern College. Before that, she got a doctorate at Harvard and taught there as well.
Wenkart was only 10 when the rescue mission took place.
She says she wants to set the record straight because people always ask if she feels lucky that she "got out."
"There was no problem getting out. Anyone could get out, nobody had to die. Nobody would let us in. And that is a very important thing for people to understand," Wenkart says.
Many of the 50 children were later able to reunited with their families in the United States, including Wenkart.
She says the families had an easier time coming to the United States because at least one of their children was already in the country.