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Our Chat with Ruth Gruber
Author of Exodus 1947

November 22, 1999

Book: Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation

Author: Ruth Gruber

Description: In 1947, 4,500 Holocaust survivors aboard the Exodus were making a desperate attempt to reach Palestine. Ruth Gruber, an American journalist, followed these refugees and documented each turn of events as they happened.


The Transcript of Our Chat

Ruth Gruber:
Hello everyone.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Hi Mrs. Gruber. Welcome.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Hi everyone. For those of you who are new to the chat room, I’m Jen Rosenberg, the Holocaust Guide at About.com.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
I want to welcome you to a special chat with Ruth Gruber.

Fern:
Hello, Ruth, It's Fern and another "Ruth Gruber" from another school!

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Ruth Gruber has traveled and reported from around the world.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
She earned her Ph.D. at age twenty and soon became a foreign correspondent.

JC:
WOW!!!!!

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
At twenty-three, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, she was the first journalist - man or woman - to report from the Soviet Arctic.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
In 1944, while she was working for Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, President Roosevelt sent Gruber on a covert mission to escort 1,000 World War II refugees in a secret convoy across the Atlantic to Fort Ontario on Oswego, New York.

Ruth Gruber:
Hi Fern, it was such fun and great to be with you in Los Angeles, and how you dressed up to look like me and you read from my book, Haven...

Fern:
I'm at work now, Ruth, and may have to sign off. This is wonderful!

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
That mission resulted in her book Haven, which will be the basis of a major network television movie in 2000.

JC:
Ms. Gruber, can you tell me more about your book? I have never read it.

K9Kastle:
A movie? How wonderful. Network or cable, I wonder.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
JC, you need to press a ? to ask a question and then Wendy will tell you when it is your turn to ask a question.

Undercover:
Ruth, who would you like to portray you in a film of your life story?

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
I was going to start with a short introduction, and then we will all have a chance to ask her questions.

Ruth Gruber:
Jen, that's fine.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Since we all seem anxious to ask Ruth questions, why don't we go ahead and start. Wendy, who is first?

Wendy (Host):
Sure JC go ahead with your question please

JC:
Ms. Gruber, please tell me more about your book. I have never read it.

Ruth Gruber:
It's the story of the only group of refugees the US saved during World War II. They were guests of President Roosevelt...

Ruth Gruber:
and I was made a simulated general and sent to Europe during the middle of the war in the midst of the Holocaust...

JC:
Unbelievable!

Ruth Gruber:
and brought them to safe haven in an army camp in Fort Ontario.

JC:
Thank you, I am done, for now.

Ruth Gruber:
My most recent book is called Exodus 1947: the Ship that Launched a Nation.

Allen:
How many people were saved?

Dgirl:
Were these refugees people FDR knew, or were they recommended to him?

JC:
Sounds like an interesting title.

Ruth Gruber:
A former American steamer that used to sail in Chesapeake Bay...

Ruth Gruber:
manned by young American men who fought in World War II and were now determined to help the survivors of the Holocaust get to Palestine.

K9Kastle:
What is a simulated general, and what did you do?

Ruth Gruber:
They made me a temporary General... if I was shot down as a civilian, I could be killed as a spy, but...

Ruth Gruber:
as a general, they had to give me food and shelter and keep me alive.

K9Kastle:
Thank you.

Ruth Gruber:
And my job was to fly across the Atlantic to Italy and collect these refugees, put them aboard an army troop transport and bring them to safe haven in America.

Allen:
How many people?

Wendy (Host):
Ruth did you get that question - how many people?

Ruth Gruber:
If you are talking about Haven which is being republished in March, there were 1,000 refugees...

Ruth Gruber:
but if you are talking about Exodus 1947, there were 4,500 survivors on this steamer renamed Exodus.

Allen:
How many people were saved on the ship you sailed?

Ruth Gruber:
This ship had been built to hold 400... but these people were determined to break through the blockade to reach Palestine.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
I think we need to clarify just for a second. Ruth headed a rescue of 1,000 Jews from Europe to bring them to the U.S. This is in her upcoming book Haven.

Ruth Gruber:
That would be 1,000

Allen:
Thanks.

Ruth Gruber:
And the movie. :)

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
She covered the ship Exodus that carried 4500 Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine, but was boarded by the British.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
This is in her book Exodus 1947.

Undercover:
How have you expanded on your Exodus story in this new revised edition?

Ruth Gruber:
I have added 20,000 words describing the horrible conditions in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany and Austria...

Ruth Gruber:
plus a hundred more of my photos describing the

Ruth Gruber:
DP camps and prisons camps in which survivors were forced to live in the former killing camps of the Holocaust.

Ruth Gruber:
People think when the war ended and the death camps were liberated by the allied armies...

Ruth Gruber:
the survivors rushed out of the gates, took a deep breath, and lived happily forever after...

Ruth Gruber:
but that didn't happen.

Ruth Gruber:
Those who could walk went home to find if any relatives were alive... but everyone was dead...

Ruth Gruber:
and when they knocked on the doors of their own homes, neighbors who had taken over their homes, came out of their doors with shotguns,

Ruth Gruber:
and said what? Are you still alive? Why didn't they turn you into soap.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
You were covering the newly created United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) when you heard about the refugee ship Exodus 1947 on the radio. What made you decide to drop what you were doing to cover the ship?

Ruth Gruber:
And the survivors knew they could no longer live in their former homes, so they went to the American zone of Germany, because we were there.

Ruth Gruber:
And we would help them get to Palestine.

Kucab:
How do you feel that your Holocaust experiences have effected you?

Wendy (Host):
Ruth may we proceed with another question?

Ruth Gruber:
Jen, I knew this was a story I had to cover. I had heard on the radio that this steamer had been attacked outside territorial waters in the...

Ruth Gruber:
Mediterranean by 5 British destroyers and the famous cruiser Ajax that had sunk Graf Spae in the war.

Ruth Gruber:
The destroyers crushed the ship from both sides like a sandwich. British sailors and marines were able to get into the ship carrying sten guns,...

Ruth Gruber:
truncheons, tear gas. The refugees and the crew were told not to shoot, not to use a single gun. They and the refugees were given as their...

Ruth Gruber:
weapons, tins of beef, potatoes, and fruit, oranges, especially. The British marines had tried to break into the wheelhouse. Bill Bernstein, the second mate, and the most beloved member of the crew,...

Ruth Gruber:
was hit on the head by one of the British marines. His skull was fractured, and he was killed.

Laurel:
When was your book Exodus 1947 first published? I'm fascinated by the premise.

Ruth Gruber:
It was first published in 1948 under the title, Destination Palestine: the Story of Haganah Ship Exodus 1947.

Laurel:
Thank you. It would make a compelling movie, by the way.

Ruth Gruber:
Thank you.

Theory:
Of the 4,500, is there anyone individual or family that caught your attention the most?

Ruth Gruber:
Yes indeed....

Ruth Gruber:
I wrote of 3 passengers in this new edition, on a Romanian child, never been to school, boarded the Exodus when she was 9. Today is a graduate of the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical School, and became a cancer researcher.

Ruth Gruber:
Another is Uri Urimacher,...

Ruth Gruber:
who was in Russia during the war and at the end was put on the train with orphans. They were halted in the middle of the night and Polish soldiers tried to kill all the orphans. He...

Ruth Gruber:
was on the Exodus, and today lives in LA and works in the space program.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
You mention that Uri's father was on the train. Did Uri see his father?

Ruth Gruber:
Jen, his father ran through the train with an ax, told the motorman to get moving. The motorman was in with the soldiers.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
But the father had pretty much abandoned Uri. How did Uri feel? Did he ever get back together with his father?

JC:
Earlier you mentioned that the neighbors came out with shotguns, why? Did they form a rebellion? Was this caused by the SS soldiers?

Ruth Gruber:
They never had a good relationship.

JC:
Oh, thank you. I didn't catch that. :)

Ruth Gruber:
This was after the war. These were the homes that neighbors had taken over.

JC:
Yes, I know, thanks :)

Kucab:
How do you feel these experiences effected your life?

Ruth Gruber:
I felt that I must use whatever talents I have with words and pictures to try to awaken the world to the horror of what was happening after the war.

Ruth Gruber:
I wanted to grab the world by it's lapels and shout, don't you know what's happening?

Ruth Gruber:
Words were my weapons.

Laurel:
This is a multi-part question: hope that's okay. How many refugee ships tried to run the blockade, in your estimation? Do you know how many were successful? Did the fledgling Israeli army fight with the British blockade?

Ruth Gruber:
About 70, and all kinds, fishing boats, former Coast Guard boats, even President Roosevelt's former yacht.

Ruth Gruber:
Quite a few were able to make it to beaches, and help the people off who then merged with the population... but the Exodus was the largest at that point.

Ruth Gruber:
The British decided they could end the "illegal" immigration by destroying it.

Ruth Gruber:
No, the Israeli army didn't fight, but there were some Haganah men on the ships.

Ruth Gruber:
Once Israel was born, and had it's own army, there was no need to fight the British blockade, and they could take in every running Jew.

Allen:
Did local Austrians offer any support to the DP inmates in their midst?

Ruth Gruber:
None at all... the people came into Austria and many were put in the Rothschild hospital in Vienna.

Ruth Gruber:
There are photos in my book showing the hospital turned into a DP camp... so overcrowded that people were sleeping outside the building in all kinds of weather.

Theory:
Of the 4,500 how many finally made it to Israel and how long did this take to happen?

Ruth Gruber:
The British put them on 3 prison ships in Haifa and sent them to southern France and from there, they selected me to represent the American press.

Ruth Gruber:
They announced they were sending the Jews to Germany. They were taken to Germany and all 4500 escaped.

Ruth Gruber:
All of them were in Palestine on the 15th of May, 1948 when the state of Israel was born. Everyone of them was in Israel when it was born.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
The process of unloading the ship seemed reminiscent of the unloading of boxcars in the camps. Including the selection of who was healthy and who was sick, plus the removal of the refugees’ possessions. Was there any instance when the refugees’ reacted to this similarity?

Theory:
Wonderful, thank you.

Ruth Gruber:
When they arrived in Haifa, many were pulled down which looked like a splintered matchbox... 120 were wounded, shot and beaten by the British.

Ruth Gruber:
On the dock, British soldiers undid the bandages... Some were sent to hospitals other put on ships.

Ruth Gruber:
The people were very emotional but were being dragged. Some were very brave.

Ruth Gruber:
Some were beaten so badly it took weeks to recovered. It happened both in Haifa and in Germany.

Allen:
What did the passengers on the ship talk about most?

Ruth Gruber:
While on the Exodus, they talked of what it would be like to be in the new homeland, safe from the terror of the death camps, the bombing, and the running.

Ruth Gruber:
They dreamed of a life of security and peace.

Allen:
Revenge?

Wendy (Host):
Ruth - I believe Allen is asking if there was any talk of revenge.

Ruth Gruber:
When they were on the 3 prison ships, they talked of the unbelievable horror of being forced to return to the land which had murdered 6,000,00 Jews.

Ruth Gruber:
I don't think they thought in terms of revenge. They talked of defiance, and showing the world that these were Jews such as the world had never seen.

Ruth Gruber:
They painted the swastika on the British flag... they were defiant.

Ruth Gruber:
That photo is the most famous I've ever taken, published by Life and Time.

Undercover:
Who photographed and filmed you with the refugees, holding the children in the footage seen in "Long Way Home" and the PBS Exodus documentaries?

Ruth Gruber:
I did all the filming because I was almost always the only correspondent there. They used a great many of the photos I had taken in the pen of the prison ship.

Ruth Gruber:
They held up their babies to me, because this was the meaning of the Exodus, to bring their babies to the new land.

Ruth Gruber:
They would go on living so their children would not burn in the gas chamber.

Wendy (Host):
Our last question is from Theory - then Jen will wrap things up - Theory go ahead please...

Theory:
Schindler's List at the end of the movie shows the number of descendants from the original list, by chance do you know the numbers for the Exodus?

Ruth Gruber:
No, but I think we can say that of the 4,500, there must be just from them 25,000 or more of their children and children's children.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
It is just getting to be 10 p.m. Eastern, so, unfortunately, it is time to wrap up this chat.

Theory:
Now that is what I call DEFIANCE!!!! Thank you.

Wendy (Host):
Thanks Ruth.....will turn things over to Jen now.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Ruth, it has been a great pleasure having you as a guest in my chat room. Thank you so much for your time, patience, and wisdom. My very best wishes for you in the future.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Thank you everyone for coming! I have information about Ruth’s book at http://history1900s.about.com/library/holocaust/blgruber.htm

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Which is also linked from my homepage at http://holocaust.about.com [not any longer]

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
And I will soon have the transcript up of this chat session as well.

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Again, thank you all so very much for coming!

Wendy (Host):
Thanks everyone for being a terrific group - you were a pleasure to Host - thanks Ruth for your wonderful words.

Ruth Gruber:
Thank everyone for your very incisive questions, of all my books, this may be the most important... we must fight injustice in the world.

Wendy (Host):
You are all welcome to stay and discuss this topic at your leisure.

Ruth Gruber:
There must be no more refugees, no more DP camps, there must be a world of peace. Thank you all. :)

Jen (Holocaust Guide):
Thank you Ruth for all that you have done to tell the world about these injustices!


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