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Witness: One of the Great Correspondents of the Twentieth Century Tells Her Storyby Ruth Gruber
Synopses & Reviews
With her perfect memory (and plenty of zip), ninety-five-year-old Ruth Gruber-adventurer, international correspondent, photographer, maker of (and witness to) history, responsible for rescuing hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II and after-tells her story in her own words and photographs.
Grubers life has been extraordinary and extraordinarily heroic. She received a B.A. from New York University in three years, a masters degree from the University of Wisconsin a year later, and a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne (magna cum laude) one year after that, becoming at age twenty the youngest Ph.D. in the world (it made headlines in The New York Times; the subject of her thesis: the then little-known Virginia Woolf).
At twenty-four, Gruber became an international correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and traveled across the Soviet Arctic, scooping the world and witnessing, firsthand, the building of cities in the Siberian gulag by the pioneers and prisoners Stalin didnt execute . . . At thirty, she traveled to Alaska for Harold L. Ickes, FDRs secretary of the interior, to look into homesteading for G.I.s after World War II . . . And when she was thirty-three, Ickes assigned another secret mission to her-one that transformed her life: Gruber escorted 1,000 Holocaust survivors from Italy to America, the only Jews given refuge in this country during the war. “I have a theory,” Gruber said, “that even though were born Jews, there is a moment in our lives when we become Jews. On that ship, I became a Jew.”
Grubers role as rescuer of Jews was just beginning.
In Witness, Gruber writes about what she saw and shows us, through her haunting and life-affirming photographs-taken on each of her assignments-the worlds, the people, the landscapes, the courage, the hope, the life she witnessed up close and firsthand: the Siberian gulag of the 1930s and the new cities being built there (Gruber, then untrained as a photographer, brought her first Rolleicord with her) . . . the Alaska highway of 1943, built by 11,000 soldiers, mostly black men from the South (the highway went from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, 1,500 miles to Fairbanks) . . . her thirteen-day voyage on the army-troop transport Henry Gibbins with refugees and wounded American soldiers, escorting and then photographing the refugees as they arrived in Oswego, New York (they arrived in upstate New York as Adolf Eichmann was sending 750,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz).
In 1947, Gruber traveled for the Herald Tribune with the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) through the postwar displaced persons camps in Europe, and then to North Africa, Palestine, and the Arab world; the committees recommendation that Palestine be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state was one of the key factors that led to the founding of Israel.
We see Grubers remarkable photographs of a former
American pleasure boat (which had been renamed Exodus 1947) as it limped into Haifa harbor, trying to deliver 4,500 Jewish refugees (including 600 orphans), under attack by five British destroyers and a cruiser that stormed the Exodus with guns, tear gas, and truncheons, while the crew of the Exodus fought back with potatoes, sticks, and cans of kosher meat. In a cable to the Herald Tribune, Gruber reported that “the ship looks like a matchbox splintered by a nutcracker.” She was with the people of the Exodus and photographed them when they were herded onto three prison ships. Gruber represented the entire American press aboard the ship Runnymede Park, photographing the prisoners as they defiantly painted a swastika on the Union Jack.
During her thirty-two years as a correspondent, Ruth Gruber photographed what she saw and captured the triumph of the human spirit.
“Take photographs with your heart,” Edward Steichen told her.
Witness is a revelation-of a time, a place, a world, a spirit, a belief. It is, above all else, a book of heart.
"Journalist Gruber, a Ph.D. at age 19, became an international correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune in 1935, launching a career that covered the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, the establishment of Israel and the first glimpse of Siberian gulags. Gruber has a charming, feminine perspective rare to the times; combined with her knack for (very) telling details, she makes a riveting storyteller. For instance, 1941 found Gruber in Alaska with troops preparing of the U.S.'s entry into WWII, and she captures their desperation expertly in a single quote from a teenaged soldier who visited her one morning: ' 'Excuse me for bothering you. I'm so lonely. I only want to hear you laugh.' ' Similarly, a planeful of Yemenite Jews emigrating to Israel in 1949 hides a thunderous story: 'Because of years of starvation, (the Yemenites) were so tiny that the plane could hold twice as many Yemenites as Americans.' Gruber also found herself a participant in history-making: at 33, she escorted 1,000 Jews from Europe to America; in a 1951 visit with refugees in Israel, Gruber admonished Prime Minister Ben Gurion for deplorable living conditions, prompting quick improvements. Complemented by a slew of Gruber's own photographs-which succinctly record the desolation and hope of the times-this life story makes for a fascinating journey." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
By the time she was assigned by Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, to travel by ship with Jewish Holocaust survivors from Italy to the United States during World War II, Gruber had already been the youngest PhD in the world and an international correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. In this memoir, she describes those experiences, especially focusing on the plight of the Jews during World War II and the sympathy it engendered in Gruber for the foundation of Israel. Some 190 photographs she took on her travels through Siberia, Alaska, Europe, Palestine, Israel, and North Africa complement the memoirs. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the building of the Soviet gulags to the 1947 British attack of the "Exodus," a ship carrying Holocaust survivors, 94-year-old Ruth Gruber--adventurer, photographer, and international correspondent--tells her story in words and photos.
About the Author
Ruth Gruber was born in 1911. She was a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune from 1935 to 1967. In 1998, Gruber received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She is the author of nineteen books, including I Went to the Soviet Arctic, Destination Palestine, Haven, Raquela, and Ahead of Time. She lives in New York City.
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