Sunday, April 7, 2013

Adoption Movie Review - HBO Documentary - 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus left Philadelphia in 1939 in a heroic effort to bring back 50 children from Nazi Germany. Steven Pressman’s hour-long documentary about the Kraus’ draws from Eleanor’s diary and is punctuated by interviews with several individuals, now in their senior years, who were rescued by Gilbert and Eleanor. 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus debuts on HBO Monday, April 8 at 9:00 Eastern/Pacific.  It plays on HBO and HBO2 on eight other occasions throughout the month of April; check here for other show times.

How is This Relevant to Adoption / Foster Care? 

There are several connections to foster adoption, infant adoption, international adoption, and older-child adoption. The children rescued by the Kraus family were brought across national borders into a summer camp in the United States, and eventually moved into US foster homes. As is the case in private adoptions, parents were required to decide whether to allow their children to leave with the Kraus’. As in the adoption of teenagers, the children were asked whether they would be willing to go with the Kraus’. And as in many forms of adoption, in an effort to protect and provide a safer life, children were separated from siblings and parents without certainty of reunification. Historical data in the documentary suggests that the move to the US saved these lives, and interviews with the survivors suggest that they still feel grief over their separations from loved ones. 50 Children is about the rescue of Jewish children from Nazi-controlled countries prior to the Holocaust, but adoptees in the audience may resonate with some of the circumstances and some of the mixed emotions expressed by the survivors.

Strong Points
The documentary does a good job of soliciting the stories of the survivors, the Kraus’ children, and, through Eleanor’s diary, the Kraus’ themselves.

Some documentaries about violent periods in history have unexpected, graphic footage. While historically accurate, the footage can  be very troubling to younger viewers or viewers who have experienced or witnessed violence in their own lives. This one does not employ such footage, and as such may be a safer film than others.

Think About It…

It’s difficult to evaluate a documentary on something as historically important as the Holocaust, while also relating its relevance to adoption, and to do so both thoroughly and tactfully, but that’s my sincere goal here. To that end, in this review, I’ve changed my typical section headings from “Challenges” and “Weaknesses” to “Think About It…” and “Potentially Tough Spots.”

Sometimes it’s tempting for people to view adoptive parents as “saviors.” This is often bothersome to the adoptive parents and the people who are adopted. It’s possible that someone could view the Kraus’ as heroes, and then apply the tag to adoptive parents they know. For what it’s worth, the documentary describes the Kraus’ as “not saints” but as people who did a selfless thing. That’s a healthier view than hero worship, and it would probably be a fitting description of many adoptive parents – not saints, but people who ongoingly do a mostly selfless thing.

The documentary debuts on Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The Kraus’ demonstrated courage in the face of danger. While many documentaries have unexpected glimpses of graphic footage, this one does not; if you want to educate your children about this time in history, this seems to be a safe documentary to do it with. At the same time, kids who are adopted might have been told indirectly that they were saved by their adoptive parents – that’s a lot of emotional baggage to put on a kid. It would be important to help an adopted child watching this film realize how their pre-adoption life differed from the life which would have awaited the Jewish children in Nazi-controlled countries.

Potentially Tough Spots

The Kraus’ only had 50 slots available, and this required them to make selections of which children they would save. This must have been a heart-wrenching process for the Kraus’, the children they rescued, and the parents of the children. It could be heart-wrenching for some adoption-touched viewers – some who have “survivor’s guilt,” and some who might inwardly align themselves with those who were not chosen.

Some survivors acknowledge never seeing their parents again, which could be traumatic to some viewers touched by adoption.
50 Children is narrated by Alan Alda


This has the potential to be a powerful, moving experience for parents and children. It doesn’t sensationalize emotions or violence, and is a mostly positive portrayal of selfless, courageous people. It’s running several times on HBO and HBO2 over the next three weeks, so you might check out the debut and decide whether to see it with your children. For what it’s worth, the Friday April 12 4:30 PM time might suit kids better. If your kids can handle the potential emotional triggers, it’s worth watching.
Questions for Family Discussion after the movie

Why did the Kraus’ decide to go to Europe? Why were their friends worried about them going?

How do you feel after watching this documentary?

The children were sad about leaving their families. As adults, they are both sad about some parts of their story, and happy about others. Is it OK to be sad, even though some good things have happened to you? Are you ever both sad and happy about adoption? What other parts of life do you have mixed feelings about?

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