Found on Film

Finding a mother and aunt in a JDC historical film

It’s not every day that you watch an historical film and can say with confidence “I know that person!” But for Joan Boreen, that’s exactly what happened.

Faced with an exceedingly great amount of time to spend at home in 2020, Joan took the opportunity to search through her many boxes of slides, film negatives, and photos in order to scan them for digitization. Over 10,000 scanned items later, Joan made some incredible discoveries. One was an envelope containing photos of her mother and aunt—Edith Kraus and Gertrude Kraus—on a ship. Joan remembered looking at these photos with her mother (now 95!) years ago and, thankfully, at the time had her mother identify the ship to write on the back of the photos. The ship was the S.S. Mouzinho, one of the transatlantic ships on which JDC bought blocks of passenger space for thousands of emigrants fleeing Europe from its wartime headquarters in Lisbon.

Jewish refugee children surrounded by suitcases and packages, all wearing their American Friends Service Committee ID tags, waiting in line to board the S.S. Mouzinho for their journey to the United States. June 1941. JDC Archives.

Edith (right) and Gertrude (left) on the S.S. Mouzinho with the ship’s captain. June 1941.

Edith and Gertrude’s journey began in 1939 when Edith, age 14, and Gertrude, age 9, were sent away from their home in Vienna with other Jewish children in the hope that they would be reunited with their families in the United States. Their parents were to lose their apartment, and faced with the prospect of nowhere to go, arranged for their family to leave. Early on in their journey, Edith and Gertrude—along with over 100 other children—were brought to Château de La Guette, a children’s home established by the Comité Israélite pour les Enfants venant d’Allemagne et d’Europe Centrale (Jewish Committee for Children Coming from Germany and Central Europe) in a chateau owned by the Rothschild family in Villeneuve-Saint-Denis, France. When the chateau was evacuated in May 1940, the children were brought to La Borboule, Clermont-Ferrand, and Marseille, France, and eventually made their way through Spain to Portugal. JDC at the time was the primary funder of children’s homes in France for Jewish refugee children.

The group of children left France under the auspices of the United States Committee for Care of European Children, as part of a shipload of refugees and were cared for, in part, by the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), who arranged their journey in conjunction with OSE, the Commission for the Assistance of the Jewish Refugees in Portugal, and HICEM, three organizations subsidized by JDC.

Edith and Gertrude Kraus featured in an excerpt from a list of Jewish refugee children receiving JDC aid in France, including information on overseas relatives and friends, 1940. Source: JDC Archives.

Edith and Gertrude’s brother, the oldest of the three siblings, was the first to leave Vienna and reach the United States. In the meantime, their parents – Joan’s grandparents – waited patiently for their own visas and actually reached New York City before their daughters did. When the Mouzinho docked in New York, Edith and Gertrude’s parents were there to meet the ship.

Now, in contrast to years ago, Joan was able to search online for information about the Mouzinho. This led her to a film recorded in Portugal in June 1941 prior to the journey of the Mouzinho from Lisbon to New York City. Joan initially found mention of this film on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website—they, in turn, directed her to the JDC Archives. The Archives was especially excited to hear from Joan because of our own serendipitous discovery of this footage inside of a mislabeled film can (read more about that discovery here).

Clip from Refugee children in Portugal embark on the SS Mouzinho featuring Edith and Gertrude. Source: JDC Archives.

The events on the film took place at the children’s colony, Colonia Balnear Infantil Do Seculo, operated by JDC for refugee Jewish children in Estoril, Portugal. The film also shows the children boarding the ship in Lisbon. Morris Troper, European Director of JDC at the time, is featured greeting the children at the colony and then waving them off at the port as the ship departed. You can imagine Joan’s surprise when she watched the 10-minute film and found her mother, two months shy of 16, and her aunt beside her throughout the film. Although she was able to recognize her mother in the film immediately, Joan says that she was grateful that her mother wore such a distinctive striped dress that allowed her to find her mother throughout the film.

Joan asked her mother what she remembers from her time on the Mouzinho. Edith says she remembers arriving in Portugal at a “big house” by the ocean, that everyone there was very kind, and that she had a good meal there. Edith also remembered that on the Mouzinho, the officers took a liking to Gertrude because of her bright red hair, which must have stood out quite a bit! And as a child she, of course, remembers getting extra sweets from the ship’s captain.

Despite the prevalence of COVID-19, Joan and her husband recently traveled safely to her mother in Florida to visit her for her 95th birthday. She was so thrilled to be able to show her the film Refugee children in Portugal embark on the SS Mouzinho and to point out the two sisters at various points throughout the film.

What a truly incredible find.

As a result of Joan Boreen’s inquiry, JDC Archives staff searched for and found a list of passengers on the Mouzinho in our text collections. This list has now been indexed and is searchable via our Names Index and the complete, original list is also available. And for more photos of the Mouzinho passengers, search our Photo Collection.

Joan Boreen is a community volunteer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA area. This story is shared with her permission.