During the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States Congress knew of the vicious persecution European Jews faced under the Third Reich, yet in spite of this knowledge, they tightened immigration restrictions rather than loosen them. For virtually the entire war, U.S. isolationists kept the gates of America shut to Jewish refugees, throwing up barriers to every plan proposed, but finally, in June 1944, Roosevelt announced his intention to bring in one thousand refugees outside the rigid quotas. Using the term “guests” for these refugees, the President circumvented governmental policy to provide temporary sanctuary and a glimmer of hope to people who desperately needed both.
In Haven, Ruth Gruber provides an intimate glimpse into the amazing odyssey of Roosevelt’s personal “guests.” Chosen to accompany the refugees from Italy to the United States, Gruber knew first-hand the political wranglings behind the scenes and the harrowing tales of the refugees themselves. Her book uncovers the humanity behind the politics, leading us from the highest offices in Washington, D.C. onto the deck of the transport ship Henry Gibbins, and then to the barracks of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York. Along the way, she takes us into the lives of the 982 refugees, interweaving their stories of death and survival with the moving account of their voyage from war-torn Europe to the safety and struggle of life in America.
At Fort Ontario, these refugees, predominantly Jewish and hailing from eighteen different countries, began to build a community. Gruber relates how slowly they re-established the rhythms, routines and practices of daily life, at least as far as their undefined immigrant status would allow. The children attended school; couples married; the residents published a newsletter and put on variety shows. However, their peaceful life behind the fences of Fort Ontario belied the tension and uncertainty they felt over their future. Unable to venture outside the camp, the refugees relied on Gruber and other allies to take their case to Congress and the American public, asking that they be allowed to remain in the United States. Gruber, known to the refugees as “Mother Ruth,” also bolstered their spirits and nurtured their hope until finally, eighteen months after the refugees first arrived at Fort Ontario, President Truman allowed them to enter the country legally.
Haven, Gruber’s own dramatic story, as well as that of the refugees, has recently been reissued. This latest edition includes a new Foreword by Dava Sobel, an added chapter describing Gruber’s years as a journalist and her life beyond Fort Ontario, a special Appendix from the 1946 Congressional Record listing the names of all the camp’s residents, and reprints of two articles about the refugees. The book also includes an index and numerous photographs from onboard the Henry Gibbins and inside Fort Ontario.
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|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|The Struggle in Washington||1|
|The Voyage of the Henry Gibbins||51|
|The Oswego Adventure||117|
|After They Crossed the Rainbow Bridge||249|