Ruth Gruber found her life’s purpose in 1944 on a ship crammed with 1,000 Jewish refugees. Most still wore striped concentration camp uniforms. Their expressions were sorrowful; their stories, horrifying.
Gruber photographed and interviewed the refugees as they journeyed from Italy to America. She promised them that through their stories, America would learn the truth of Hitler's crimes. “Listening to their stories of survival, I had an epiphany,” Gruber said. “I realized that for the rest of my life I would use my tools — my words and images — to fight injustice.”
The exhibition Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist, on view Nov. 2 through Jan. 6, 2013, celebrates the 101-year-old’s remarkable life and heroic tenacity. The exhibition features her photographs, filmed interviews and mementos.
Gruber was born in 1911 to Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. From a young age she began stacking up firsts. At 20, she was celebrated as the youngest Ph.D. in the world. At 24, she became the first news correspondent to travel to a Siberian gulag and conduct secret interviews with prisoners.
In 1941, the federal government hired her to report on conditions in Alaska Territory for potential homesteading by World War II veterans. For 18 months, she focused her lens on Alaska families, soldiers and Alaska Native people. She took some of the earliest color photographs of the Last Frontier.
But it was on that Jewish refugee ship Gruber decided to devote her life to issues of rescue, sanctuary and liberation.
Some of her best-known work was done in 1947 in Haifa, which is now in Israel. She learned a ship overloaded with 4,500 Holocaust survivors had been battered by British destroyers while trying to break the blockade on immigration to Palestine.
Gruber was the only journalist to board the Exodus 1947
with a camera. She documented the dead and wounded, and witnessed as refugees were forced to disembark, sprayed with DDT, dispossessed of their paltry belongings and marched onto British prison ships.
Wire services sent Gruber’s images to thousands of newspapers and magazines internationally, including LIFE. These photographs radically transformed post-war attitudes toward Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors.
Sunday Fun Day
2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4
Go on a museum-wide photo scavenger hunt, explore the Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist exhibition and learn what it’s like to be a news photographer from the Anchorage Daily News’ Marc Lester. Included with admission
Ahead of Time: The Extraordinary Journey of Ruth Gruber
6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11
Take a cinematic journey through Ruth Gruber’s extraordinary life as a photojournalist, activist and author. Learn how she witnessed and made history during a career that spanned seven decades.The film will be introduced by Ruth Gruber’s daughter, Celia Michaels, and the film’s executive producer, Patti Kenner, both of New York City. Free. Watch a trailer here