By Amy Levine Kennedy Curator
Join us in the WJC Lobby on January 31 • 7:45 pm for a Gallery talk and reception. Refreshments will be served.
Our winter exhibition, “Ruth Gruber: Photojournalist,” comes to us from the International Center of Photography in NY and curator Maya Benton. A historian and humanitarian, Gruber was best known for her work documenting the resettling of Jewish refugees after World War II.
A formidable documentarian, Gruber was born in Brooklyn in 1911 and lived to 105. She first noticed the evil intentions of the Nazis while studying in Cologne, Germany, in the 1930s as the world’s youngest PhD student.
After chronicling Eskimo life in Alaska, Gruber landed an assignment to bring 1,000 Jewish refugees and wounded American GIs from Italy to the US. She told their stories in her book, “Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America.” Transferred to a refugee shelter in Fort Ontario, NY, the refugees were detained while American officials debated asylum or deportation back to Europe. In the only US attempt to resettle WWII refugees, Gruber lobbied successfully for their protection through the end of the war when they were allowed to apply for US residency.
That year, Gruber began a new quest covering the fate of other WWII refugees and began work on a New York Post assignment to cover the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, which was tasked with the resettlement of 100,000 European Jewish war refugees. Gruber documented the refugees’ challenges on gaining admission to the newly formed state of Israel and witnessed the ship Exodus 1947 as it entered the Haifa Harbor, attempting to land 4,500 refugees who were refused and rerouted to Cyprus. Intrepid, Gruber flew to Cyprus to meet them and photographed all she witnessed as they were detained by the British and then sent on in squalor to France, where the Jews, weary but determined, refused to disembark only to be sent back to Germany. Gruber was the lone journalist allowed to travel back among them. Aboard the Runnymede Park, Gruber created her iconic images of these refugees, confined in a barb-wired cage with a Union Jack flag, on which they’d painted a swastika, hoisted above.
In 1947, Gruber wired her photographs of the ordeal around the world. Published in newspapers and magazines, they transformed global understanding of the plight of post-war refugees and Holocaust survivors. Gruber went on to chronicle the hordes of immigrants who poured into Israel, while maintaining her attention to refugee communities internationally, writing and documenting their stories, in word, image and on film, for the rest of her life.
These black and white and color photographs include originals and vintage prints made from Gruber’s negatives.