On the street in the picture, through the years has become more like an alleyway. Although, I’m certain, at one time it resembled any other city street – one with tall trees filled with leaves, but back in 1939 surely appeared as shrubbery. Now, you ask who lived at this address, and what significance does it have to anything? Again, if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I not only have a soft spot in my heart for my own African-American history – I also have this unusual pull to the accounts surrounding World War II, and Europe. Now, I’m confident you don’t need me to fill you in on the happenings in that part of the world during that time frame (1939 that is). With that said, I have to mention a remarkable couple who occupied that Cypress Street address in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Have you ever heard of Gilbert & Eleanor Kraus? Mr. Kraus, an attorney haunted by a mission took his compulsion, and his wife, leaving their two children behind while they ventured off to Nazi riddled Germany and Austria. Why, you ask? This served as his contribution, if you will – his way of liberating fifty children that he did not know, had never met; enabling them to taste freedom. And, although only a few met up with their parents later on, they were all given a sentence to live by coming to America. Also, only a small number of those children had relatives already here who could take them in, the majority were entrusted to foster parents.
Could I have – would I have been able to do such a thing? Who would have the courage to travel to a place ripe, and ready to explode at any given moment into chaos. I would think that travel by train through any part of this region at the time could be likened to, well….hell. Now, the Kraus’ were elite – while they moved through the dark, so to speak to get the work done, they dined at the best restaurants, stayed in a high-end hotel, and traveled on the famed Orient Express. But, how would one pull that off? I can’t imagine spending any time in such a threatening place, during one of the most sinister periods in history. Which tells you the burning desire Mr. Kraus had to have had. I will always remember something my mother told me. I had this thing continuing to bug me for probably a two-year period. It would come to mind, I’d think about it, and say – I need to do that. But, I never did. Now, it didn’t pester me constantly, but each time it came to me, it had more urgency than the time before. Finally, I simply had to succumb. So, I said to myself, “Self, you’ve just gotta get this done.” She explained, that when anything is bugging you like that, and won’t leave you be, you know it’s from God. She explained that’s how a man of God gets the call – God knocking on the door of your heart, as it were. Therefore, I definitely understand Mr. Kraus’ need.
I have watched countless hours of documentary, as well as devoured page upon page having to do with this era. From Hitler’s taking of the government to the Einsatzgruppen paramilitary (the first method used in his twisted plan) to American and British POWs being held, and released from Colditz Castle. I’ve listened to Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge talk of her time with him. I heard her confess that if she knew what would happen, she would have never taken the job. I caught the story of the Kindertransport program (a movement that took Jewish children from Germany to foster homes in Britain). I’ve witnessed stories being told by survivors who had to assist in the clean-up; tales that choked them up as well as their audience. Through all of this I have always managed to keep dry eyes. However, this particular rendering struck at the pit of my gut, and moved me in a way that broke me, this time. Okay, all with the exception of The Boy With The Striped Pajamas – could anyone keep a dry eye while watching that movie?
As I think about it, maybe observing a senior break down as she explained how she remembered the day to look when she left, and then, tell of how she never laid eyes on her parents again. It could have been the intrigue of how they got the children out, like a great espionage building, and building to a final point where it’s such a great relief. It may have been thinking about the fact that they could then, go to school, have the freedom to move about as they wanted, yet all the while missing their parents. I really can’t say what did it. But, if World War II history interests you in the least or even if it doesn’t, you must find and watch, 50 Children: Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus. Then, come back and tell me what you thought.
Image courtesy of Google Earth
Other links courtesy of Wikipedia & The New York Times