Local filmmaker's '50 Children' doc debuts on HBO

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San Franciscan Steven Pressman makes his filmmaking debut with 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, an informative documentary about Philadelphia residents Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus — grandparents to Pressman's wife, Liz Perle — who hatched a daring plan in 1939 to rescue 50 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Austria. The hour-long film airs Mon/8 on HBO.

"I don't think we'll ever know why my grandparents did what they did," Perle muses. But her recollections, along with historical accounts of the Kraus' activities (including first-hand reportage from Eleanor's unpublished memoir, expressively read by actor Mamie Gummer), reveal a couple dedicated to doing something they knew was right, even as both the government and general population of the United States resisted making exceptions to existing, strict immigration quotas. Even when children's lives were at stake — and despite the efforts of other countries, including England, which welcomed 10,000 young refugees. (America's own anti-Semitism problem gets a mention here, as you might imagine.)

The risks the Jewish couple (in their early 40s at the time) took were considerable; as the film explores, they pushed through every barricade thrown in their way. With additional narration by Alan Alda, the Kraus' remarkable tale unfolds via vintage photos, footage, and interviews with historians and several of the now-elderly children — who choke up at the memory of leaving their parents behind, but whose appreciation for the couple that saved them has not diminished. Catch HBO showings of 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus starting next week; schedule details here.

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