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Ruth Gruber, photographer

Ruth Ellen Gruber was born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrants David and Gussie Gruber on September 30, 1911. Along with her four siblings, she grew up in a middle-class Jewish suburb. Highly intelligent, she entered New York University as a 15-year-old, and three years later, she began postgraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At age 20, she is believed to be the youngest person to ever receive a Ph.D. An interest in German culture led her to the University of Cologne at the time when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were seizing power. Ms. Gruber's interest in photography began in Germany, and by age 25 she was working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, where she extensively on the Gulag, a Soviet agency that administered the Siberian labor camps implemented by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. American photographer Edward Steichen took the young photojournalist under his wing, and his advice became her professional mantra: "Take pictures with your heart."

Throughout the late 1930s, Leica and Rolleiflex cameras along with pens, notebooks, and several rolls of film accompanied Ruth Gruber all over the world. She developed a highly effective candid style reminiscent of the Magnum international photographic cooperative, whose members included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa. Her activism commenced in earnest while photographing the daily lives of the Inuit and Aleut indigenous peoples of Alaska. She later recalled they taught her how to live "inside of time" and use her camera as a powerful documentary record. Her visual observations were published in the 1939 volume, I Went to the Soviet Arctic. Impressed with her efforts, President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes, asked her to assist with transporting 1,000 Jewish refugees from Italy to the United States. She and her camera were there to chronicle their arrival in Oswego, New York in 1944. The horror of their wartime experiences were etched upon their faces and serve as a poignant visual diary of living history.


After World War II, Ms. Gruber continued her efforts on behalf of Jewish refugees, was an active participant in international conferences, and told their stories as a correspondent for The New York Post. Her work took her to Cyprus where her viewfinder framed Jewish prisoners languishing behind barbed-wire fences. She was there to greet Holocaust survivors being transported on the Exodus 1947 ship, and also covered the emotionally charged Nuremberg trials. At the age of 39, she married Philip Michaels, an attorney she met on one of her photo assignments, and together the couple would have two children, Celia and David. She continued her travels after the death of Mr. Michaels in 1968, and married fellow journalist and New York City welfare policy administrator Henry Rosner in 1974. Mr. Rosner died in 1982. The twice-widowed Ms. Gruber has stayed active well into her 'golden years' and remains a steadfast global champion of Jewish refugees. Her life is the subject of Robert Richman's 2009 documentary, Ahead of Time: The Extraordinary Journey of Ruth Gruber. The indefatigable centenarian penned her own epitaph when she observed, "My life would be forever bound with rescue and survival. I would use words and images, my typewriter and my cameras as my tools. I had to live the story to write it, and . . . if it was a story of injustice, I had to fight it."





Ref:
2011 American Women Artists in Wartime, 1776-2010 by Paula E. Calvin and Deborah A. Deacon (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.), p. 103.

1948 Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation by Ruth Gruber (New York: Union Square Press), pp. xi-xii.

2011 Ruth Gruber, 50 Years of Photos, 100 Years of Life (URL: https://www.lomography.com/magazine/85023-ruth-gruber-50-years-of-photos-100-years-of-life).

2016 Ruth Gruber: A Life Dedicated to Rescue by Michael Feldberg (URL: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ruth-gruber).

2014 The Woman Who Launched 1,000 Jewish Refugees by Menachem Wecker and Amanda Borschel-Dan (URL: http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-woman-who-launched-1000-jewish-refugees).


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