The documentary “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr and Mrs Kraus” may bear many of the same hallmarks as other heroic stories from the Holocaust – with impossible odds and gargantuan reserves of courage – but its message remains as relevant as ever.
It tells the story of an American couple who travelled to Vienna during the war to evacuate Jewish infants at risk of persecution, and then provide them with safe passage to the United States.
The film’s director, Steven Pressman, was determined to illuminate the horrors of war but equally, to show how such extreme situations can also bring out the best in humanity.
He said: “It was a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on this unknown, this little unknown Holocaust rescue story. But I think more importantly to also shine a much deserved spotlight on this extraordinary couple. And – with an opportunity to hopefully inspire people with this story of the ability of basically ordinary people to achieve an extraordinary result under very trying circumstances.”
Several of those children feature in the film, and most offer devastating insights into what is commonly known as ‘survivor guilt’.
One of the chosen – Henny Wenkart – spoke frankly of her experiences, and of the mixed feelings it evoked:
“I felt guilty about the fact that I knew I was going to leave and leave my parents and sister behind. Immediately that, you know, my first thought was to save my own life. I never got over that. I never got over that.”
The documentary, shown on HBO this week, is an extraordinary tale of bravery but its real power lies in its exploration of the often agonizing choices war can present.