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Intrepid photojournalist, activist, humanitarian: Ruth Gruber dies at 105

Iconic American Jewish writer, photographer and humanitarian Ruth Gruber has died. The 105-year old graduate of Cologne University was instrumental in bringing Jewish refugees to the US during World War II.

Born before the outbreak of World War I, the highly respected journalist died at her home in Manhattan on Thursday, according to her editor, Philip Turner. 

Gruber was one of five children born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents who encouraged her academic pursuits. She began her studies at New York University at just 15 and by age 20 she had earned a Ph.D from the University of Cologne, Germany, having written her dissertation on English novelist Virginia Woolf. She received her doctorate in just one year; "The New York Times" reported that she was the youngest Ph.D. in the world.

Gruber then went into journalism as a foreign correspondent and during the war was appointed special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes.

In 1944, she played an integral part in a mission to bring 1,000 Jewish refugees to the US, saving them from almost certain death in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Congress had refused to lift the quota on Jewish immigration to the US from Europe, which led President Franklin Roosevelt to use executive authority to invite the group to visit America. Gruber lobbied to keep them in the US until the war had ended. In January 1946 a decision was made to allow them to apply for American residency. The episode was the only attempt by the US to shelter Jewish refugees during the war.

As she accompanied the refugees to the US she interviewed them, which became the basis of "Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America," one of many books she wrote, later made into a television miniseries starring acclaimed British actress Natasha Richardson (above, (R)) as Gruber.

In a particularly moving scene in "Haven", Gruber recalls a rabbi conducting a service as the boat passed the Statue of Liberty.

After the war she covering stories such as the plight of Jewish refugees and their settlement in what was then the British Mandatory Palestine. She witnessed the Exodus ship entering Haifa harbor in 1947 after it had been intercepted by the British Royal Navy while making an attempt to deliver 4,500 Jewish refugees. Gruber photographed the refugees detained by the British; she alone among journalists was allowed by the British to accompany them back to Germany.

She published over a dozen books during her lifetime; her written and visual work was exhibited worldwide. She was honored with awards from organizations including the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

In 1985, at the age of 74, she visited isolated Jewish villages in Ethiopia and described the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews in "Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews."

Gruber was married and widowed twice. She is survived by her son and daughter from her first marriage.

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jbh/kl (AP, Washington Post)

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