Saturday, July 04, 2009

Book review "Haven"

I have never heard of Ruth Gruber. Turns out she is a significant journalist/writer who was active in our government during WWII. She is 97 today and still writing and lecturing.

A New York City resident, a Jew, a bright young woman who earned her PhD by the time she was 20, Gruber is someone to listen to. Her work centered around the plight of European refugees, principally Jews, but more broadly those who were caught up in Hitler's war machine as Europe was taken apart during the 1930s and early 1940s. Her story, "Haven", is about the (almost) 1000 refugees, the very few, who were rescued by the U.S. during the last year of the War in Europe.

It seems incredible to us, today, that the plight of refugees...mostly Jews...who were systematically murdered in Europe was not widely known by the rest of the world. How could you hide such a massacre? In reality it was not well enough hidden to make anyone today a bit ashamed of our leaders during the war. Doris Kerns Goodwin gave me a bit of an insight in her book about FDR (Uncommon Times)after 1940. What did he know and when did he know it? But more importantly, what did he do or not do about it (Holocaust)? Remember, this is the same FDR who permitted the 100K Japanese-Americans be interned in camps here in the Pacific Northwest. Today we all agree that it was inhuman and unnecessary.

Gruber was there and on the ground and behind the scenes in "Haven" as the one sent by the U.S. government to accompany the shipload of (about) 1000 to the United States and their internment in a refugee camp in Western New York (Ft. Oswego.) Of course, the stories are important in this age of Holocaust Deniers to remind us of the fact that this systematic murder took place over time and became so efficient.

However, the enlightening part is a reminder, first hand, how and why the country of Israel was settled and sanctioned by the U.N. in 1948. There has been strife in the Middle East ever since. This is important background information as we watch the new administration formulate its Middle East policy. (I think, for too long, we have just accepted the fact that Israel is our ally and that we need to support them without question.) Most Americans either did not know or do not realize how and why the State of Israel was formed. I know my knowledge of how goes back to the movie The Exodus, which was released in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Up until that time I was of the belief that ... well, just that the Jews were reclaiming their homeland that the Bible said they had been given (ahem).

Gruber follows some of the stories well into the 1980s and beyond, but she has sparked in me an interest in her other books about refugees and "the west's" treatment of them. She was a first hand observer and had access to the early leaders of Israel (David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir) and tells some fascinating behind the scenes tales.

It is an easy read and tells some fascinating personal stories of how these folk survived being hunted down by the Nazis all over Europe.

I ordered two more of her books today at Amazon for $1 each plus shipping.

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