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She Fought for Justice

“I had two tools to fight injustice — words and images, my typewriter, and my camera.”

Ruth Gruber was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 30, 1911, and was the fourth of five children, born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents. Ruth enrolled at New York University when she was fifteen, and when she was eighteen, won a postgraduate fellowship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she earned her MA in German and English literature. When she was 20, she won another fellowship from the Institute of International Education. This fellowship sent her to study in Cologne, Germany, where Ruth earned a Ph.D., from the University of Cologne, in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History, graduating Magna Cum Laude in just one year! This made her the youngest person to receive a doctorate in the world, at least at that time. The woman was brilliant.

When Ruth was in Germany, she learned about the Nazis and Hitler’s anti-Semitic rants, even attending some meetings to understand what was happening. Eventually, she was hired by the New York Herald Tribune and wrote about what she had learned while in Germany and about the gulags- “corrective labor camps.” In the 1920s, the system grew to 100,000 workers. The mortality rate varied, but of the 18 million (no, that is not a typo) who were sent to the gulag from 1930 to 1953, approximately 1.5 to 1.7 million perished there. It was a real eye-opener for some, while others scoffed and disregarded her insights.

The Secretary of the Interior sent Ruth to Alaska and, for over eighteen months, Ruth covered the vast Alaskan territory by plane, train, truck, paddle-wheel steamer, and dogsled. Ruth revealed in an interview that once when stopped at a border, a guard demanded her camera and film. She steadfastly refused, saying, “They don’t belong to you. They belong to the world!”

By now, World War II was raging and so was the Holocaust. In 1944, the U.S. opened the borders to admit 1,000 survivors. This was the first and only time the U.S. assisted survivors, and then “assist” was open for debate. They were interned in yet another “camp” in Oswego, New York, in a former Army Camp. While they were sequestered for months in this new camp, the authorities discussed at length what would become of them. Many favored deportation, back to their homelands, to be massacred.

After the war, Ruth worked tirelessly for peace and understanding in Israel. The story of Ruth Gruber, who spent her life rescuing people, primarily the Jews who were slated to be slaughtered, is told in much more detail in They Roared, which hopefully will be published soon. Ruth Gruber is attributed with saving over a thousand lives, has written extensively about her work, and until recently made public appearances. It’s a story worth reading. This is just a tiny teaser. There is so much more!


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