The woman who launched 1,000 Jewish refugees

Ruth Gruber

Ruth Gruber, Alaska, 1941-43 (Unidentified photographer, courtesy)

Chicago — In so many ways, Ruth Gruber is larger than life. The 102-year-old photojournalist traveled to the Soviet Arctic as a foreign correspondent in the mid-1930s, covered the arrival of Exodus 1947 in Palestine, and reported on the rescue of Jews in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. The Brooklyn native who started reporting in the early 1930s has also published 19 books.

But what she called “the most important assignment of her life” was not as a journalist, rather as a diplomat — Gruber was a special assistant to the US secretary of the interior during World War II – with the astonishing rank of general.

In 1944, Gruber was instrumental in bringing some 1,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe to the United States — the only time the US brought Jewish refugees en masse.

Read more of the piece, co-authored with Amanda Borschel-Dan, the Times of Israel’s Jewish World editor, in TOI.

One of the most interesting photos in the exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie (through June 1), I thought brilliantly juxtaposes and compares the chess pieces with which children refugees play with bottles of medicine in a nearby outdoor medical station and pharmacy. Not only is there surely mental health benefit to the play, but the chess pieces’ and the bottles’ firm, upright positions highlight how hunched over and unstable the children are. Here’s the image:

Children playing chess on the refugees’ deck of the Henry Gibbins next to an outdoor medical station and pharmacy, 1944

Children playing chess on the refugees’ deck of the Henry Gibbins next to an outdoor medical station and pharmacy, 1944. Photo by Ruth Gruber, courtesy of Illinois Holocaust Museum

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