‘No one in his right mind would go to Germany now.’
“This is really crazy,” Eleanor Kraus told her husband Gil after he began discussing a highly improbable plan to rescue a group of Jewish children from Nazi Germany and bring them to the United States. “No one in his right mind would go to Germany now. It’s not safe, especially for Jews. I’d be too scared to put a foot into that country, assuming the storm troopers would even let me in.”
Despite the risk and dangers, Gil and Eleanor -- a Philadelphia business lawyer and his glamorous wife -- undertook a mission that would plunge both of them into the heart of Nazi Germany. In the spring of 1939, the Krauses -- accompanied only by a Philadelphia pediatrician -- found themselves face to face with Gestapo officers, menacing storm troopers and reluctant American diplomats. But they were determined to achieve their goal: returning to the United States with Jewish children whose parents had become increasingly desperate to escape from the oncoming Nazi terror.
A few months earlier, the horrifying violence of Kristallnacht -- the “Night of Broken Glass” -- had shattered whatever hopes remained among Jews in Germany and Austria that Nazi forces would let them be even as Adolf Hitler continued his menacing march through Europe. In the United States, neither Congress nor the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt had any desire to relax the restrictive immigration laws that prevented more than a trickle of Jewish refugees from finding safe haven in America.
Gil Kraus was determined to do whatever he could to save even a handful of children from a deadly fate. He and Eleanor wound up in Vienna, where the entire Jewish population had been ordered to leave by the Nazi authorities. The question was where they could go. “Everyone could get out,” recalled Henny Wenkart, one of the rescued Vienna children. “But nobody would let us in.”
Gil and Eleanor Kraus were two ordinary people living in a time that demanded extraordinary action. While others only stood by, they courageously stood up. Seventy-five years later, their story is finally being told.