An Heroic Woman at 19 and 99

Photo by Ruth Gruber.

September 30 marks the 99th birthday of the photographer Ruth Gruber. I doubt you’ve ever heard of her. Surprisingly, I had not known of her heroic acts until now.

Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Ruth Gruber defied tradition
from the moment she became the world’s youngest PhD at the age of 20.
By the age of 24, she was the first journalist to explore the Soviet
Arctic, and a few years later escorted Holocaust refugees to America in
a secret war-time mission for President Roosevelt. She became the eyes
and conscience of the world with her photographs of the refugees aboard
the ship Exodus 1947 and helped change the world.

She is the subject of an engaging new documentary Ahead of Time, the directorial debut of cinematographer Bob Richman (whose work on September Issue and My Architect are must see) and produced by Zeva Oelbaum. This film follows the remarkable life of Gruber:

“A spirited woman who rejected the gender boundaries of
her generation – leaving Brooklyn for studies in Berlin, where she
witnessed the rise of Nazism and began documenting her observations. An
impassioned foreign correspondent, she began her illustrious career
with the New York Herald Tribune, is the award-winning author of 19 books.”

When few others were concerned with the Holocaust Gruber recorded
the case histories of survivors and refugees: “You are the first
witnesses coming to America. Through you, America will learn the truth
of Hitler’s crimes, ” she told her refugee charges.  In turn,  the
refugees began calling Gruber “Mother Ruth” and looked to her for
protection.

On this Labor Day it is uplifting to revisit Gruber’s life and work. Go here or here or here to watch the trailer.  The film opens in LA on September 24 and NYC on September 10 and again on September 28.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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