Ruth Gruber

A life dedicated to rescue.

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Aboard ship, Gruber recorded the refugees' case histories. She told them, "You are the first witnesses coming to America. Through you, America will learn the truth of Hitler's crimes." She took notes as the refugees told their stories, but she often had to stop because her tears blurred the ink in her notebook. The grateful refugees began calling Gruber "Mother Ruth," and looked to her for protection. As historian Barbara Seaman observed, "She knew from then on, her life would be inextricably bound up with rescuing Jews in danger."

On arriving safely in New York, the refugees were immediately transferred to Ft. Ontario. As guests of the President without any rights conferred by the possession of a travel visa, the refugees were locked behind a barbed wire-topped, chain link fence. U. S. government agencies argued about whether the refugees should be allowed to stay at the fort or, at some point, be deported back to Europe. Gruber lobbied Congress and FDR on behalf of keeping them at Ft. Ontario through the end of the war.

Gruber finally prevailed. In 1945, after Germany's surrender, the refugees were allowed to apply for American residency. Some became citizens and went on to have extraordinary careers as radiologists, physicists, composers, teachers, physicians and writers. One, Dr. Alex Margulies, who came as a teenager from Yugoslavia, helped develop the CAT-scan and the MRI. Another, Rolph Manfred, helped develop the Polaris and Minuteman missiles. Later, Manfred dedicated his life to teaching engineers in developing countries about peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Her mission at Ft. Ontario ended, Gruber's role as Jewish rescuer was just beginning. In 1946, she took resigned from her post as assistant to Secretary Ickes to return to journalism. The New York Post asked her to cover the work of a newly created Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. When Harry Truman, Roosevelt's successor, learned that Jewish displaced persons were living in camps in the American Zone in conditions that paralleled Nazi work camps, he ordered improvements in the camps' conditions and pressed Great Britain to open the doors of Palestine to 100,000 European Jewish refugees. Stalling, Prime Minister Bevin suggested that the US and Britain appoint the joint committee to meet with the refugees in Europe, as well leaders in the Arab world and Palestine before deciding whether Jewish immigration to Palestine was feasible. Truman assented and Gruber accompanied the joint committee to the squalid DP camps in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

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Michael Feldberg

Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.