HAVEN: The Unknown Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees by Ruth Gruber

HAVEN: The Unknown Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees

Email this review


In June 1944, when she was a young, German- and Yiddish-speaking assistant to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, Gruber was dispatched to accompany a thousand European refugees--the first to be rescued by the US government--from Naples to upstate Oswego, New York, where they were to be kept till war's end at a disused Army post, and then returned to Europe. Most though not all were Jews, and the appalling truth of the matter is how little they were wanted, even those few--topped off by how well they did here, after Gruber and others won permission for them to stay. In the large, this is not news. Gruber (Raquela: A Woman of Israel), moreover, gives it a hokey dramatization, with long stretches of artificial dialogue and pregnant, meaning-of-it-all commentary. Yet it is also, inescapably, the Jewish-American epic in microcosm--complete to friendly, outreaching Oswegans, a few heroic American officials, and a visit from Eleanor Roosevelt; and readers not sated with Holocaust survival stories (furnished for numerous individuals) may still respond to the first Oswego circumcision, Bar Mitzvah, high-school graduation, and wedding. . . for which Gruber's echt-Jewish-mother brings one of her evening gowns and a just-crocheted veil. The emotional show-stopper, though, is a shipboard performance given by the refugees--several of them music-hall or opera stalwarts--for the whistling and cheering wounded GIs who share their Liberty ship. The Oswego Thousand, as Gruber pretty much concedes, were a Roosevelt sop to pressure for America to do something; the incident appears, described that way, in Arthur Morse's While Six Million Died. An expanded footnote, then, without the shadings of an involving first-person narrative, but with some transient moments of perennial appeal.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1983
Publisher: Coward-McCann