To make a long and terrible story a shorter but still grim one, the future followed swiftly: Kraus walked into his shop one day to find that it had been taken over by the S.S. as their property; he had the double shock of seeing the man he’d trusted for years as his right-hand man in the store standing there dressed in an S.A.(stormtrooper) uniform, giving a Nazi salute and presiding over this initiative. Kraus was summarily jailed and sent first to Dachau and then to Auschwitz. Remarkably, he survived this ordeal and was eventually released from the concentration camp in 1939 and reunited with his family. His freedom however was conditional: he was ordered to leave Austria within 2 months or be sent “back to Dachau for good” (p. 70). Kraus left for Sweden, and he miraculously managed to get his mother out of Austria and to Sweden just the day before all of Europe went to war. Rather than floundering around Europe, Kraus – like many Eastern European immigrants of the time – had one goal: to get to America. This he managed in September 1939, when he boarded a ship bound for New York. Again, in his words:
My visa came through in September and I sailed for New York on the SS Kungsholm one week later. We arrived on October 12, 1939, Columbus Day and my 32nd birthday, and this I took to be a good omen. I was bringing with me a memento of America’s discoverer, a copy of the rare Columbus letter of 1494, the Verardus edition, one of my few salvaged possessions, sent to me from Switzerland to Sweden (p.73).So the new immigrant, still a bookman at heart despite being stripped of his business and his possessions by the Nazis, arrived on US soil bearing the one possession he had chosen to take with him (the Nazis had rigid restrictions on what Jews were allowed to take out of the country): a rare Columbus letter, a relic not only of this new country he was entering but also a reference to and a bridge between his past life as a bookseller in Austria and his new life to be as an antiquarian book dealer in New York. As was his luck, upon disembarking the ship Kraus was approached by a news reporter looking for a human interest story. Let’s let him tell the rest:
I said I was a rare book dealer and that elicited some curiosity. I told him of the Columbus Letter and this aroused even more interest. Newspapers are partial to topical items and this happened to be Columbus Day…
….That evening I picked up a newspaper and read the following headline: IMMIGRANT BRINGS COLUMBUS LETTER TO AMERICA ON COLUMBUS DAY.
….I got my first American publicity before I had been in the country 24 hours, and without sending out a press release or making a single phone call. I had just one regret. My address failed to appear in the story, because I had none when the interview took place. I wondered how many readers might want to buy the Columbus Letter and be unable to reach me. (pp. 75-76).