The Atlantic stretched for miles in every direction, and the blazing sun heated the ship's deck and burned the children's bare feet. The passengers, Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe, faced untold danger during the 13-day voyage through Nazi-infested waters. But Ruth Gruber, special assistant to the U.S. secretary of the interior, knew that each Jewish soul aboard the boat was grateful to be sailing toward freedom, despite the cramped conditions and constant seasickness.
After all, Congress had refused to increase immigration quotas from Europe, condemning thousands of innocent Jews. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, used his executive authority to arrange a top-secret mission that would bring 982 Jewish refugees to the United States from Naples, Italy. When Ruth heard about the president's plan, she immediately volunteered to accompany the lucky refugees, each of whom had received a ticket to life.
Determined to help, she used her experience as a journalist to record the refugees' painful memories in war-torn Europe. "You are the first witnesses coming to America," she told them, wiping their tears and her own. "Through you, America will learn the truth of Germany's war crimes."
Much to Ruth's shock, the refugees were transferred to Fort Ontario, a former Army training base surrounded by barbed wire near Oswego, New York. Although Congress planned to send the refugees back to Europe, Ruth lobbied on their behalf until they were allowed to apply for American residency. Ruth later returned to journalism and covered the journey of the Exodus 1947.