September 26, 2007

Ruth Gruber at 96

Ruth Gruber at the Museum
(Photo by Melanie Einzig)

One of the genuinely great pleasures of my job has been the opportunity to get to know the legendary Ruth Gruber, and to be able, on occasion, to be in her presence. For those who do not know of Ruth, I have appended excerpts from a recent press release, which outlines her career. Ruth Gruber has led one of the 20th Century's most remarkable lives. She was not only a witness to significant events of the past century, but she brought to her witnessing a prodigious talent as a writer and photographer. Ruth is an inspiration, and we have been privileged to have an exhibition of her photographs, From the Heart -- The Photojournalism of Ruth Gruber, which will be on view until December 2, 2007. We wish Ruth the happiest of birthdays!

Ruth Gruber is —without a doubt — a force of nature and living history. In her new book, Witness (Schocken Books, 2007), she illustrates, through haunting and life-affirming photographs taken while on assignment, the cultures, the people, the courage, and the hope she witnessed first-hand during most of the 20th century. Today, at 95, Ruth Gruber is an inspiration. The photographs and stories in Witness chronicle not only the daring adventures of one woman, but provide new insights into some of the most dramatic events of the last century.

Among the photographs and essays included in Witness are Ms. Gruber’s accounts of:
 Her top secret assignment for FDR and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, where she accompanied 1,000 refugees to America — the only Jewish refugees allowed in this country — and brought them to Fort Ontario, Oswego, NY. This chapter of her life was made into a CBS mini-series with Natasha Richardson as Ruth and was the subject of her much lauded book Haven.

 The most harrowing story she reported on as a journalist, when she witnessed the American lend lease boat, Exodus 1947, try to deliver 4,500 Jewish refugees — including 600 orphans — to Israel when it was attacked by five British destroyers and a cruiser. Gruber witnessed the Exodus 1947 entering the Haifa harbor and watched the British storm the ship. She writes how the Exodus crew fought back with potatoes, sticks, and cans of kosher meat. Gruber stayed with the Exodus prisoners when the British sent them back to Germany aboard the prison ship Runnymede Park. Her account of those events—Exodus 1947—was published in 1948 and was used by Leon Uris to write his best-selling novel Exodus.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1912, Ms. Gruber graduated from New York University in three years, received her master's from the University of Wisconsin a year later, and a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne (magna cum laude) a year after that. At age 19, she was the youngest Ph.D. in the world, and made headlines in the New York Times because of it.

Gruber’s thesis in Germany was the first book ever written on Virginia Woolf; most of Woolf's work was still to be written and published. Never before published in America, that thesis, Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman, was released in 2006 by Carroll & Graf.

In 1935 at the age of 24, Ms. Gruber was hired by Helen Rogers Reid, publisher and owner of the New York Herald Tribune, to be an international correspondent. In 1998, Gruber received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She is the author of 19 books, including I Went to the Soviet Arctic, Destination Palestine, Haven, and Raquela. She lives in New York City.

No comments: