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Ethiopia in Israel

Posted by addisethiopia on November 26, 2012

The scene in the above video is taken from one of the most influential and beautiful movies, “Exodus” (1960)

After the 22 July 1946 „King David“ hotel bombing to exonerate Jewish zeal and to evoke a sense of Christian forgiveness for acts of post-Holocaust Jewish violence. In this case, ‘Dov’ Shakes off British security men by weaving in and out of Jerusalem’s Ethiopian Church and hiding behind Christian relics and clergy processions.

The Brilliant Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist (1911 – )

In 1946, President Harry S. Truman learned that the Jewish survivors in the refugee camps of the American Zone of Germany were living under appalling conditions. As one historian observed, the camps “differed from the Nazi camps only in that the inmates were not deliberately exterminated.”

Truman pressed the British to accept 100,00 Jewish refugees into Palestine. The British responded by proposing to create a joint Committee of Inquiry to visit the displaced person (DP) camps in Germany and then go to North Africa and Palestine to asses the feasibility of resettling the Jewish Dps there.

Having finished her resettlement work with the Jewish refugees at Fort Ontario, New Yourk, Ruth Gruber packed up her Camera, notebooks and typewriter and followed the Joint Committee as a correspondent for the New York Post, Gruber reported in her dispatches, the survivors greeted its members with signs like “We want to go. We must go. We will go to Palestine.” When asked why he wanted to go to Palestine, a sixteen-year-old orphan who had survived Bergen-Belsen replied, “Why? Everybody has a home. The British. The Americans. The French. The Russians. Only we Jews have no home. Don’t ask us. Ask the world.”

The committee members spent four months in Europe. Palestine and the Arab countries and another month in Switzerland digesting their experiences. At the end of their deliberations, the twelve members– six Britons and six Americans—unanimously agreed that Britain should allow 100,00 Jewish immigrants to settle in Palestine. The celebrations that followed in the camps were soon stilled, however, when the British foreign minister. Ernes Bevin, rejected this finding.

Eventually, the United Nations took up the issue. The UN appointed a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). Like its predecessor, UNSCOP visited the camps in Germany and then went on to the Arab states and Palestine. Gruber accompanied UNSCOP as a correspondent for the New York Herald. While in Jerusalem, she learned that a former American pleasure boat, renamed the Exodus 1947, had attempted to bring 4,500 Jewish refugees to Palestine– including 600 children, mostly orphans – but had been intercepted by five British destroyers and a cruiser. Gruber left immediately for Haifa and witnessed the Exodus entering the harbor, looking, as Gruber wrote, “like a matchbox splintered by a nutcrackes.”

During the “battle,” the British had rammed the Exodus and stormed it with guns, tear gas and truncheons. The crew, mostly Jews from America and Palestine, had fought back with potatoes, sticks and cans of kosher meat. The Exodus’s second officer, Bill Bernstein of San Francisco, was clubbed to death trying to prevent a British soldier from entering the wheelhouse. Two orphans were killed, one shot in the face after he threw an orange at a soldier.

When she learned that the prisoner from the Exodus were being transferred to Cyprus, Gruber flew there overnight. While waiting for the Exodus detainees, she photographed Jewish prisoners from earlier landing attempts living behind barbed wire in steaming hot tents with almost no water or sanitary facilities. “You had to smell Cyprus to believe it,” she cabled the Herald.

The British changed their plans and sent the Exodus prisoners to Port de Bouc in southern France, where they had initially embarked. Gruber rushed there from Cyprus. When the prison ships arrived, the prisoners refused to disembark. After eighteen days in which the refugees endured the blistering heat, the British decided to send the Jews back to Germany. The world press was outraged. While hundreds of journalists descended on Port de Bouc, only Gruber was allowed by the British to accompany the Dps back to Germany.

Aboard the prison ship Runnymeade Park, Gruber photographed the refugees defiantly raising a British flag that they overpainted with a swastika. Her photo bacame Life Magazine’s “Picture of the Week.” Crushed together on the sweltering ship making their way back to Germany., the refugees sang “Hatikvah,” the Hebrew anthem of hope. Gruber’s book about the DP’s endurance would later provide Leon Uris with material for his book and screenplay Exodus, which helped turn American public opinion in favor of Israel.

In 1951, Gruber married, gave birth to two children, and suspended her journalistic travels. She wrote for Hadassah Magazine and raised funds for UJA. In the 1970s, she visited Israel, where she wrote a biography, Raquela, that won a National Jewish Book Award. In 1985, at age seventy-four, Gruber traveled to Ethiopia, where she observed the aliyah of that nation’s Jews to Israel.

Gruber’s journey to Ethiopia completed a cycle that had begun with her voyage to Italy in 1944 to bring 1,000 Jewish refugees to Fort Ontario. In 2001, a television network dramatized her life in a two-part broadcast. Today, Ruth Gruber lives in New York City; she stands as a symbol of hope for Jews in danger anywhere in the world.

(Source: Blessings of freedom: chapters in American Jewish history by Michael Feldberg)

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