Photo Courtesy of Ruth Gruber
Ruth Gruber

Florida Atlantic University Libraries

Jewish Heroes and

Heroines of America

1900 to World War II:

A Judaica Collection Exhibit

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Ruth Gruber: Advocate for the
Immigration of Jews fleeing
Hitler and a Journalist

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Ruth Gruber devoted her life to rescuing Jews from the concentration camps in Nazi Germany and oppression. She experienced the rise of anti-Semitism as Hitler came to power when she was in graduate school in Cologne, Germany.

Ruth was the daughter of Gussie and David Gruber and was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1911. She was an outstanding and brilliant student. She entered college when she was 15 years old and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees when she was 19. When she was 20 years old, she graduated with her Ph. D. and the New York Times claimed that she was the youngest person in the world to receive it.

She returned home after graduation and she started a writing career as a journalist for the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. She was assigned by the Herald Tribune to write about women under fascism and communism.

Writing these articles took her to many forbidden places. She was the first correspondent to fly into Siberia. She met and interviewed many pioneers and prisoners in Stalin’s Soviet Gulag. She also found that many of them were Jews and she wrote about her experiences in her book, “I went to the Soviet Arctic.”

Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, in 1941, appointed Ruth Gruber as his special assistant. He asked her to make a social and economic study of Alaska to open it for homesteaders and returning veterans after World War II. She worked on this report for one and one-half years traveling Alaska by plane, truck and dogsled.

While Congress refused too lift the quota on Jewish immigration to save them
from the concentration camps, President Roosevelt, as a symbolic gesture, issued an executive order to permit 1,00 Jewish refugees, from Naples, Italy, to “visit” America as “guests” of the President.

Ickes gave Gruber the rank of “simulated general. The reason for this title was to protect her life in the event her plane was shot down. If the Nazi’s captured her, she would be considered as a general and treated accordingly. If she was a general, they would shoot her as a spy.

Gruber escorted the 1,000 Jewish refuges from Italy to the United States. On this trip, she took pictures and recorded the events of their personal experiences. The refugees were billeted at a decommissioned Army base at Fort Ontario.

Gruber fought for the refugees to become American citizens. This was accomplished 18 months later.

She wrote a book about this experience, titled “Haven, the Unknown Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees.” It became a musical play in 1993 and a CBS miniseries in 2001.

Gruber a foreign correspondent for the New York Post. She was covering the work of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine when she learned that the Exodus, carrying Jewish refugees to Palestine, was attacked by the British fleet.

The Exodus was forced to return to France with the refugees and Ruth Gruber was the only correspondent on that ship. Her photographs of the refugees on the ship were printed in Life magazine.

Gruber decided to settle down when she was 40 years old. She married twice and became widowed twice. She has two children and four grandchildren.

Ruth Gruber has written 18 books and most of them focus on Israel and the Middle East, from World War II to the present.

Ruth Gruber used her skills as a correspondent, writer and photographer to tell the story of the misery and hardships of the Jewish refugees in finding a home in Palestine, today, renamed Israel. She was the female Moses leading her people to freedom.

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For additional information, contact
Special Collections and Archives
S.E. Wimberly Library


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Last updated 06 April 2007