Movie Review: Ahead Of Time

Today, while visiting the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center For Holocaust Education [1], I had the chance to view a documentary on the life of Ruth Gruber, a notable and still living, although very frail and old, pioneering Jewish-American photojournalist. Although I had not been familiar with the documentary before, it was very competently done, mixing voice over narrative with historical footage provided by Gruber herself alongside more recent narratives of interviews of Ruth when she was about 96 years old (she is now over 100). Overall, the documentary portrays Ruth as a strong-willed and determined woman, and also someone with a bright and charismatic personality who was capable of being accepted by a wide variety of people yet also someone who could make some enemies as well by her concern with justice and support of the underdog, which comes out clearly in this particular film, to the point where she shows a great deal of empathy for Palestinians in the same sort of displaced persons camps where the Jews remained for years after World War II.

In terms of its contents, the movie is a straightforward one, examining the narrative of Ruth Gruber’s life from her birth in the 1910’s, her early education, including tea with a much older German professor at NYU when she was only fifteen years of age as an undergraduate student, her Ph.D thesis on the works of Virginia Woolf, her early experiences as a freelance journalist, and her trips to the Soviet Arctic, Alaska, occupied Europe, Israel, and postwar Europe in various political efforts at journalism. The movie shows her being at ease with others, talking with the daughter of her host family in Cologne during her Ph.D studies there and the horrors of Hitler’s rise, talking with clever great-granddaughter of her former boss, the owner of the New York Harald-Tribune, being interviewed by the son of her former boss from the Department of the Interior, and meeting up with people from the Exodus 1947 she documented before the independence of Israel was declared. The movie examines Gruber’s ambition and drive, her career excellence, her political savvy, and the way that she was able to find herself in places where she could make a scoop and not only record history as it was being made but also to make it as well. The documentary discusses her marriage but does not hint at her work after about 1948 or so, making it a look back into Gruber’s youth and young adult years, but not a full documentary of what was likely a busy life.

In watching this documentary I was struck by a few aspects of the story that was told and its implications. For one, the documentary noted that Gruber’s book Exodus 1947 was only published in England 60 years after it was published overall, showing that England was slow to recognize the barriers it placed to Jewish emigration to Israel or to their own wrongs in anti-Semitism [2] in the post-World War II period under the Labor government. Aside from the depth of English cruelty and inhumanity, the depth of American anti-Semitism is also striking. In looking at the complaints that many Jewish Americans had with the importance of oil in the postwar Middle East and with the constant slurs about the “Jew Deal” and “Rosenfeld,” even if Roosevelt did not do enough when it came to providing a safe place for Jews to flee the horrors of Nazi extermination, I was struck by how much bad blood had been built up by Republicans with the Jewish population, bad blood I could hear still causes problems from the comments I could hear while watching the movie.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Movie Review: Ahead Of Time

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