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March 28, 2011 10:53 pm

Ruth Gruber: Touching Worlds

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Ruth Gruber in her War Correspondent Uniform, 1946.

Meeting a legend is a life changing experience.  Encountering the dedication and courage of the powerful persona and the historic legend that is Ruth Gruber is to come upon a woman who has literally saved worlds – she who saves just one life….

Ruth Gruber is the youngest person to complete a Ph.D. (1931, Germany).  She used pen and camera, traveling between the wars throughout Europe and Siberia first as observer, than as a force that changed history. Her writing gained the attention of Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under President Roosevelt. In 1944, she was given the mission of escorting a group of 1,000 Jewish refugees from Italy to America.

Facing continuing Congressional refusal to lift the quota on Jewish immigration, President Roosevelt used executive authority to permit 1,000 Jewish refugees stranded in Naples to “visit” America as his “guests.” Gruber traveled to Italy to meet and escort the refugees.

Ruth Gruber had no hesitation. To provide a modicum of wartime protection, she was given the rank of “simulated general” by Ickes, and as such would be protected by the Geneva Convention as a captured “officer.”

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“You are the first witnesses coming to America,” she told the “1,000.”  “Through you, America will learn the truth of Hitler’s crimes.” They called her “Mother Ruth.”

In 1946, Gruber covered the work of a newly created Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine for the New York Post. Soon after she visited the displaced persons camps for President Harry Truman, reporting that survivors greeted its members with signs like, “We want to go. We must go. We will go to Palestine. Only we Jews have no home.” Gruber accompanied UNSCOP as a correspondent for the New York Herald, witnessing the British attack on the Exodus – its crew fought back “with potatoes, sticks and cans of kosher meat.”

Gruber was married and widowed twice, and has two children and four grandchildren. The award winning writer has completed numerous books and articles including Raquela: A Woman of Israel, which won the National Jewish Book Award in 1979.  She lives in New York City, standing “as a symbol of hope for Jews in danger anywhere in the world.”

As her 99th Passover approaches, she will be honored at the American Friends of the Rabin Medical Center’s Women’s Luncheon at the Friar’s Club Thursday, April 7th.   The documentary film Ahead of Time will be screened at eleven, followed by Luncheon & Talk with Ruth Gruber.  Information about this historic gathering is available at AFRMC from Angela Schillaci at 212-279-2522.

“Have dreams, have visions,” she says. “Let no obstacle stop you.”

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  • Chanan

    When I was in 6th grade, back in ’67 or 68, I read my first “grown up” book. It was Ruth Gruber’s book about the Exodus. The real story and not Leon Uris’ silly fantasy.

    It quite overwhelmed me – both the history and personal stories that Gruber told, and her own idealistic personality.

    Upon reading it, I decided that I would live in Israel. Growing up in a Conservative family in the suburbs, I had not yet hear of the word “Aliya.” A year later later I did, as the largest wave of American Aliya began, culminating in 7000 olim in 1970.

    Many times I wished to thank Ruth Gruber, for the wonderful gift that she gave me. I made Aliya in 1980, married and Israeli, and we have 3 children.

    Apropos the Rabin Medical Center: Rabin (Or Beilinson as Israelis still call it) is the primary center for organ transplants in Israel. In January I donated a kidney. The medical, nursing and even sanitary staff was amazing. Inpatient and outpatient as well. We have had exposure to many Israeli hospitals, but found the quality to treatment, atmosphere and even kitchen, to be the best!

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