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Ruth Gruber (1911 - 2016)

Getty Images / Andy Kropa

Ruth Gruber (1911 - 2016)

Ruth Gruber, a photojournalist and humanitarian who helped 1,000 Jewish refugees come to the U.S. during World War II, has died at the age of 105, according to multiple news sources.

Her son David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, confirmed that she died Thursday, Nov. 17.

Gruber was already a journalist when Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes appointed her to be his special assistant during World War II. Gruber saw a report that 1,000 Jewish refugees were going to be brought to the United States. She was appointed to go to Europe and accompany the refugees on their journey. "I got rid of my breakfast and rushed to the office and said, 'I have to see the secretary.' I told him, 'Somebody has to go over and hold their hands; they're going to be terrified,'" Gruber said in a 2010 interview in the Sunday Telegraph of London.

The boat made it to America while it was being hunted by Nazi U-Boats and seaplanes. On the boat, the refugees called her “Mother Ruth,” as she gave them English lessons and cared for the sick during the voyage. Once in America, the refugees were sent to a refugee camp in Oswego, New York. The U.S. government had not decided whether to keep them in the country or eventually send them back to Europe. Gruber lobbied for the government to keep them in the U.S. until the end of the war. In 1946, the refugees were allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship.

She wrote a book about the experience called "Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America." The book inspired the 2001 television miniseries “Haven,” in which the late Natasha Richardson portrayed Gruber.

Ruth Gruber was born in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from New York University at age 15. At age 20, Gruber received a doctorate from the University of Cologne; her dissertation was on Virginia Woolf. She became a pioneering female journalist who was the first Western journalist to visit the Soviet Arctic and the gulag. In 1985, at age 74, she visited isolated Jewish villages in Ethiopia and described the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews in “Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews.”

Her survivors include two children from her first marriage, two stepdaughters, nine grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

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