“50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus” to Debut on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Journalist Steven Pressman will debut his first film on HBO on April 8th, Holocaust Remembrance Day, in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has hundreds of Holocaust-related documents, including manuscripts, letters and journals from countries across Europe. Pressman’s documentary, called “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus”, is based on a hidden, unpublished manuscript of a woman who fought for the lives of children during the Holocaust.

Pressman first learned of the unsung Philadelphian heroes Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus when his wife, their granddaughter, discovered Eleanor’s manuscript. The text explained the Kraus’s mission: to rescue Jewish children before the outbreak of World War II. Pressman traveled through Europe, and later to archives in Jerusalem and Washington D.C., to learn more about the Kraus’s efforts. He began collecting footage in 2010, and has finally gathered enough information to reveal the full story.

The film was written, directed and produced by Steven Pressman. Mamie Gummer is the voice of Eleanor Kraus, and Alan Alda narrates. The work includes archival footage and photographs, while nine of the rescued children share their experiences with the audience first hand.

Read Across America Day Kicks Off in NYC

The New York Public Library hosted the kickoff event of Read Across America Day this past weekend. Hundreds of school children gathered to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday alongside celebrities like Uma Thurman and Jake T. Austin.

The two actors read Dr. Seuss classics, and explained the numerous benefits of reading.

“As a mother of three, with one now a teenager, I’ve seen the benefits of reading to and with my children throughout the span of childhood,” Uma Thurman said. “Reading has helped develop my children and my family. Spending that time together means so much.”

Jake T. Austin added:

“Reading enables us to explore our imaginations. As an actor, I get to be different characters and experience different worlds. I want children to be able to do the same through a good book.”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel continued:

“This Read Across America Day we want students to sink their teeth into a good book…. I really like the reaction I get when I say the word ‘read!'”

According to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, serves as a poster boy for the importance of reading. With only a high school education, he prepared for his role as U.S. president by reading copious amounts of material about other world leaders.

The Presidential Inauguration Dilemma

inaugurationReally, it’s a fascinating question for those who are intrigued by history – and even for those who aren’t that interested. If the official inauguration day (January 20th)  for the new President of the United States of America falls on a Sunday, what does the country do? And if the inauguration ceremony takes place on the 21st, then who is actually president for those gap hours?

This is a question that many have sought to answer through the years, and that President Barack Obama will address today. One Senator from Missouri, David Rice Atchison, actually managed to be president for one day, and this historic document is part of Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s “Between the Lines” program.

The crisis of the Inauguration date has actually been visited a total of seven times. The first time it occurred was for the swearing in of President James Monroe (the swearing in date was, at that time, on March 4, 1821). Monroe decided, on the advice of the justices of the Supreme Court, to postpone his second-term swearing-in by one day. There was no crisis and the country survived having “no president” for a day.

The second time that this occurred was on March 4, 1849. Rather than break his Sabbath, President-Elect Zachary Taylor put off the oath-taking for one day. David Rice Atchison, a Senator from Missouri, then joked that he was actually the president, as the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 said that without a president or vice-president, the office would go to the President pro tempore of the Senate. Ironically, however, Atchison didn’t actually take the oath that day but went home to sleep.  He ended up taking his oath of office only a few minutes before Taylor took his, so technically no one was in charge that day.

As he wrote in the letter that the Shapell Manuscript Foundation has in its collection,

I never for a moment acted as President of the US, although I was President of the Senate, at the expiration  of Mr. Polk’s term and inauguration of Genl Taylor [nor] yet for one moment did I ever consider that I was the legal President of the US, Genl Taylor was the legal Pres, & Millard Fillmore Vice President, either of whom had the legal right, to the Presidency although 31 hours elapsed between the egress of Mr. Polk and the taking of the oath by Genl Taylor.

For those keeping tabs on the presidency today, President Obama will be sworn in today in a private ceremony and will then be sworn in with a more public ceremony tomorrow, on Monday, January 21.

Lincoln’s Humility Memorialized in Shapell Manuscript Foundation Letter

Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln

Today marks the 203 anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, and one of the country’s most beloved. The Between the Lines project of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, offers several documents that help to shed some light on the special character of Lincoln that makes him such a favorite among all the American presidents.

As we all know, only too well, this year is an election year, and candidates right and left, liberal and conservative, wish to be seen as men of integrity, honesty and character. But who, more than any other of the US presidents, stands out as a model of these praiseworthy attributes other than Lincoln, whom today’s candidates can’t help but pale in comparison to?

But is that how Lincoln saw himself? According to original letters of Lincoln in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s collection, Lincoln’s self-identity was of a man of humble character from a humble background. Lincoln saw himself as unexceptional, revealing that his egalitarianism was intrinsic, and the golden rule was the standard by which he behaved.  Lincoln’s modesty was so profound that he wrote, in 1859, “I do not think myself fit for the presidency.”

In one letter, written to the Honorable William D. Kelley, the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Lincoln accepts the honor having a law book dedicated to him with an inscription, but only if, “that inscription may be in modest terms, not representing me as a man of great learning, or a very extraordinary one in any respect.”

Lincoln’s humility was an extremely rare thing among politicians, as it is still today. This is one of the fundamental reasons why Walt Whitman said of Lincoln that he was, “”the grandest figure on the crowded canvas of the drama of the nineteenth century.”

Chaim Weizmann Sends Thanks to America for Their Support

When Chaim Weizmann took office as the First President of the new State of Israel, he had many people to thank. First securing a future for Israel on November 29th, 1947 with the Partition of Palestine, Israel then became a recognized state on May 14, 1948.

Prior to serving such an esteemed role in the development of the Jewish State, Weizmann was a spokesman of the Zionist cause in England, where he helped to get the Balfour Declaration passed in November of 1917. This declaration then set the stage for the Mandate over Palestine which was given to England by the League of Nations in 1922.

As a leader of the World Zionist Movement, and then as Israel’s first president, Weizmann worked tirelessly for the Zionist cause.

He met with President Harry Truman in March of 1948, urging the American President to understand how important the establishment of the Jewish State was. This meeting, and his tireless campaigning undoubtedly helped America to vote for the creation of the Jewish State.

Weizmann was elected as the first President of the State of Israel in February of 1949 and was sworn in on February 16th in Jerusalem. Only four days later, on February 20th, he wrote a letter to President Harry Truman’s aid, Clark Clifford. In the letter, which the Shapell Manuscript Foundation is featuring as part of its “Between the Lines” program, he wrote,

“Our mutual friend… has kept me informed of doings in Washington, and especially of your magnificent cooperation in many critical situations. In these days of struggle and readjustment we are desperately in need of understanding friendships, and it is good to know that we have in you a genuine friend of our cause. I assure you, and I wish you would in turn assure your great Chief, that we desire nothing but peace and amity with our neighbours, and that we have no aggressive designs on any of them. We shall always be mindful of the Biblical injunction: “Zion will be rebuilt in Justice”.”

He included a copy of his book, “Trial and Error” with the letter featured with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation and he signed off warmly by saying, “With kindest personal regards and best wishes.”

President Chaim Weizmann understood how pivotal America’s support had been in the establishment of the State, and he took the time on his first official day in office to make his appreciation understood.

Roosevelt: A President of Firsts

President Theodore Roosevelt was a man of many firsts.  Not even 43 when he took office, Roosevelt became the youngest President in the country’s history.  Although nervous and surprised when he first took office, Roosevelt soon ushered in new excitement and promise for the American people.

In an uncharacteristically down tone, Roosevelt wrote to a good friend on the day that he took office.  The letter, on display with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation and their “Between the Lines” program, shows McKinley’s stationary with the title “Executive Mansion.” In the letter, Roosevelt wrote “I have about as heavy and painful a task out upon me as can fall to the lot of any man in a civilized country…”

Soon, however, this fear turned to action, as Roosevelt became the first to officially call the building in which he lived “The White House.”  He changed the stationary featured with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation so that it said, “The White House” rather than “Executive Mansion.”

Roosevelt, continuing in his tradition of firsts, was the first president to ride in a motorized car. He was the first to travel outside of the United States . He was the first president, as well, to win the Nobel Peace Prize, having won it for his mediation in the Russo-Japanese War.

When shot in the chest during the later years of his life, Roosevelt remarked that, “No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way.”  A president of firsts, he certainly achieved a great deal in his life, and during his presidency.