Few people today can recall firsthand as much history, including conversations with the likes of Harry S. Truman and David Ben Gurion, as Ruth Gruber, the noted journalist and photographer whose career spans seven decades. The Brooklyn native, who turned 99 on Sept. 30, was honored last month with a Distinguished Journalism and Humanitarianism award at a benefit for the Norman Mailer Writers Center. Earlier in September was the premiere of a documentary about her life, “Ahead of Time,” based on her 1991 memoir, produced by Ziva Oelbaum and directed by Bob Richman.
Q : What are you up to these days?
A: I’ve been so busy. The film is doing well, so they often want me to come and do questions and answers. They worked so hard to make it. For at least 25 years people have said to me we have to make a film about you, but it would take about two and a half years. They did it in about a year.
Looking back on decades of history, what stands out most in your mind?
The period between World War II and the birth of Israel was such an exciting period. There had been such tragedies and such horrors, and suddenly there was such hope. People were so idealistic.
You served in the Roosevelt administration as assistant to the secretary of the interior. Do you think President Roosevelt did enough to stop the Holocaust?
Roosevelt was a politician but also a humanitarian in a lot of ways. He knew there was anti-Semitism. People were calling him Rosenfeld, they were saying he was fighting the war for the Jews, and every Sunday afternoon we were all sitting paralyzed listening to the radio with Father Coughlin spewing the worst anti-Semitic cracks I ever heard. People forget what he was up against … I think he could have done more [but] we were all much more timid in those days. But in the end we did win the war.
Did you experience anti-Semitism?
I didn’t because [I stayed within] my whole circle of friends and relatives. We were all eager to help as many Jewish refugees as we could.
The Herald Tribune treated me with great respect and let me have front-page articles. [Publisher] Helen Reid sent me on exciting assignments, such as covering the [United Nations Special Committee on Palestine], which was made up of wonderful nations that had no interest in oil. What are your observations about U.S. Jews today?
They want to wipe out anti-Semitism and hope to create peace in the world. We have to look into our souls and find what tools we have … I had words and images, my cameras and my little Hermes typewriter.
Do you use a computer these days?
I have one, and I have people come to work with me. I dictate quite a lot, but I also use it myself.
What would you like to do next?
I would probably want to do another book. I don’t write anything unless I feel passionate about it and feel it will do some good and maybe help fight injustice. So maybe I would write a book about fighting injustice and being very active in fighting for peace, finding ways to help people live with decency and dignity without hunger and without fear.
What do you think about the Tea Party?
The Tea Party is horrible. They want to drive us back into the Middle Ages. Everything they are for is negative.
What about President Obama’s policies on the Middle East?
I think he believes Arabs and Jews could live together. That’s what Ben Gurion prophesied to me just before he died. He said there will be peace between Jews and Arabs, and I said where will it come from? And he said it will come from Egypt, and it came true.