Noth­ing Could Stop Her: The Coura­geous Life of Ruth Gruber

  • Review
By – July 26, 2023

The title of Rona Ara­to and Isabel Muñoz’s illus­trat­ed biog­ra­phy of Ruth Gru­ber (1911 – 2016) cap­tures the essence of her life. A ground­break­ing jour­nal­ist, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and activist on behalf of many social caus­es, she enjoyed a long and suc­cess­ful career despite the bar­ri­ers placed against women in her fields. Rather than cov­er­ing the full length of Gruber’s accom­plish­ments, this book focus­es on her for­ma­tive years and her role as both a reporter and an advo­cate for the oppressed dur­ing World War II. Noth­ing Could Stop Her gives mid­dle-grade read­ers insight into Gruber’s tenac­i­ty and talents.

Like many Jew­ish par­ents of that time, Gruber’s are proud of her aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ments and enthu­si­as­tic about her ambi­tions. But as Ara­to repeat­ed­ly shows, Gruber’s career faces many obsta­cles. When her Ger­man pro­fes­sor at New York Uni­ver­si­ty strong­ly cau­tions his Jew­ish stu­dents to for­get Yid­dish, she remains proud of her iden­ti­ty. Lat­er, in her work with refugees who sur­vived the Holo­caust, her flu­en­cy in Yid­dish serves to com­fort many of them. Study­ing for a master’s degree at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin, Gru­ber encoun­ters anti­semitism thin­ly veiled as neg­a­tive com­ments about New York­ers.” Again, the unstop­pable young woman is undeterred.

Muñoz’s bright­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions, rem­i­nis­cent of ani­ma­tion, por­tray the con­trast between her youth­ful, styl­ish appear­ance and her incred­i­ble inner strength. Inte­grat­ed into the sto­ry, too, are text box­es with addi­tion­al points that pro­vide the con­text of world events. These allow the nar­ra­tive to present valu­able infor­ma­tion while also mov­ing for­ward at an engag­ing pace.

Board­ing with a Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Cologne while she pur­sues fur­ther stud­ies, Ruth is encour­aged to earn her Ph.D. in Eng­lish with a focus on the work of Vir­ginia Woolf. Although Gru­ber com­pletes her doc­tor­ate in one year, she quick­ly real­izes that sub­jects of greater urgency will soon deter­mine the course of her career. The dis­crep­an­cy between alarm­ing devel­op­ments in Ger­many and the attempt of Ger­man Jews to main­tain a nor­mal life fore­shad­ows the impend­ing disaster.

When, in 1944, Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt belat­ed­ly estab­lish­es a pro­gram to bring one thou­sand refugees to Oswego, New York, Gru­ber is sent to accom­pa­ny them on a ship from Italy. Most of the group is Jew­ish; and when the Nazis attack the ship, some of the US sol­diers com­plain they are being tar­get­ed because of the Jews on board. Gru­ber coun­ters that a refugee can be any­one who’s … dis­placed.” Rather than com­ing to the spe­cif­ic defense of the Jews tar­get­ed by Hitler, Gru­ber feels it is nec­es­sary to her argu­ment to uni­ver­sal­ize their suf­fer­ing — but to no avail. Her response does not grant her the sol­diers’ sym­pa­thy. (One text box inad­ver­tent­ly reflects Gruber’s uni­ver­sal­iza­tion, cit­ing the incor­rect fig­ure that five mil­lion non-Jews, as well as six mil­lion Jews, were killed specif­i­cal­ly to puri­fy” Europe. Nazi hunter Simon Wiesen­thal invent­ed the five mil­lion num­ber because he, like Gru­ber, felt that the world was unin­ter­est­ed in learn­ing only about the true fate of Europe’s Jews.)

Gru­ber is a lit­tle-known hero­ine whose sto­ry needs to be told. This book, dis­tin­guished by its engag­ing pace and illu­mi­nat­ing art, ensures that she will not be forgotten.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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