Ruth Gruber, The Woman Who Helped Create Safe Haven

Ruth Gruber

OSWEGO – When folks attend the special presentation of “Safe Haven” June 1 or 2 at the American Foundry, they will get an opportunity to experience a fictional snapshot of the life and times of the families as they lived on the refugee encampment Safe Haven for the 18 months it existed.

And most importantly embedded in the play is the real life character named Ruth Gruber, played by Polaann Hemulay.

Ruth Gruber

Gruber was a pivotal player in this historical saga as she was appointed by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes as his special assistant during World War II.

In this role Gruber was assigned a secret mission to Europe to bring one thousand Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers from Italy to the United States.

Throughout the voyage, the Henry Gibbins troop transport ship, was constantly hunted by Nazi U-boats and aircraft.

The passage was long and dangerous.

Escorting the refugees by ship from Naples, Italy, Gruber recorded their stories of how they had survived.

Often she had to stop writing because tears were wiping out the words in her notebook.

Soon the refugees began calling her “Mother Ruth.”

The voyage became the defining Jewish moment of her life.

She knew that from then on, her life would be inextricably bound with rescuing Jews in danger.

When they landed in New York, Gruber accompanied the families aboard a train to Oswego, NY.

The residents were to be held at Safe Haven as guest of President FDR for the duration of the war as the government had no formal policy for refugees.

After the war, it was Gruber who once again advocated for the residents to be allowed U.S. citizenship, giving them the opportunity to stay in the country if they so desired.

Because of her efforts and power of persuasion, Safe Haven was the only shelter in the US for Jewish refugees during World War II.

Gruber’s book about the experience, Haven: The Unknown Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees, became the basis for the permanent Holocaust exhibit in the State Museum in Albany called “From Holocaust to Haven.”

On Sunday, October 6, 2002, she helped dedicate the Safe Haven Museum in Oswego.

In her honor the museum library is called The Dr. Ruth Gruber Library and Resource Center.

Those interested in reading more about Gruber will find her book, Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America, fascinating reading.

Playwrights Nupuf and Lowrie have captured the emotions of this place and time in their play, “Safe Haven.”

This special production will be presented at the American Foundry in Oswego on June 1 and 2.

Dinner and show June 1 will be $60 per person.

Show only tickets are $15.

Sunday brunch and show will be $35.

Show only will be $15.

Please go to or call the box office at 315-343-5138 for ticketing and reservations.

All dinner or brunch reservations must be completed by May 30.