Ruth Gruber discussing her book, Witness, with her niece, Dava Sobel, at a public program at the Museum on April 25, 2007
Photo: Melanie Einzig
Ruth Gruber z”l passed away on November 17, 2016 at the age of 105. Ruth was an integral part of Jewish history in the 20th century and a beloved friend of the Museum. A trailblazing photojournalist and a fearless humanitarian, her life and work are inextricably bound with the rescue and survival of the Jewish people. While there are many articles detailing her life and extraordinary work, we want to highlight Ruth’s special relationship to the Museum.
In January 2007, the Museum showcased an exhibition featuring her work, From the Heart: The Photojournalism of Ruth Gruber. Ruth had backstage access to Jewish history: she escorted war refugees from Europe to America; visited DP camps; detailed the plight of the Exodus 1947; described the establishment of the State of Israel; and documented Israel’s ingathering of refugees from Europe, Iraq, Yemen, and Ethiopia. Emissary for Harold Ickes and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and Golda Meier, Ruth was both a witness to history and a human rights advocate. A selection from the exhibition is permanently on view on the Museum’s first floor; entry is free.
Ruth was a devoted supporter of the Museum. She served as the guest speaker at the Spring Women’s Luncheon, an annual fundraiser, in three separate years – 1995, 1998, and 2003. In 2007, Ruth gave a talk about her memoir, Witness, which included photographs and stories that not only chronicled her daring adventures, but provided new insights into some of the most dramatic events of the last century.
One of the stories was her top secret assignment for FDR where she accompanied 1,000 refugees to America — the only Jewish refugees allowed in this country at the time — and brought them to Fort Ontario, Oswego, NY. This chapter of her life, also the subject of her much-lauded book Haven, was made into a CBS miniseries starring Natasha Richardson as Ruth.
In 2012, the Museum was honored to present a screening of Ahead of Time: The Extraordinary Journey of Ruth Gruber, a documentary about her groundbreaking work in the 1930s and 1940s. Ruth was captivating as she participated in a post-screening discussion. The executive producers of this documentary included her dear friend and Museum Trustee Patti Kenner, and Doris Schechter, the restaurateur behind My Most Favorite Food, whose family had been among the Oswego refugees.
The Talmud says “Saving a single life is like saving an entire world.” Humanitarian, journalist, and activist Ruth Gruber saved the world a thousand times over.