A week after the Allies landed in Normandy, and three years after the first European Jew died in an Auschwitz gas chamber, President Roosevelt finally opened America's doors to 1,000 refugees fleeing Hitler's terror. "Haven," a four-hour miniseries on CBS (Sunday and Wednesday, 9-11 p.m.), tells their story.
The story is based on the account of the young Jewish American government employee, who accompanied the refugees to the United States. Ruth Gruber's memoir shows the ugly side of American foreign policy during the latter days of Roosevelt's administration. It also depicts the final triumph of the president's humanitarian instincts in the face of stiff political opposition. "We were an overtly anti-Semitic country," says Gruber, who now lives in Manhattan.
"Every Sunday afternoon, we sat paralyzed listening to Father Coughlin from Detroit spew the air with anti-Semitic trash. Congress was isolationist and restrictionist. There were many [of us] who wanted the refugees. There were many who fought for them."
But the president had political pressures to handle and did not immediately respond, despite mounting evidence of the Nazi atrocities abroad. "Roosevelt was worried that they were calling the New Deal, the Jew Deal, that they were calling him Rosenfeld or that they would say we were fighting the war for the Jews, so that it was a time when it was very hard to bring in refugees."
Once the president made the decision to bring in a limited number, the logistics proved to be a bureaucratic and psychological horror.
"The war refugee board sent a young man over first," Gruber says. "He began the selection and had a nervous breakdown. He said, 'I can't go on playing God' because so many were turned down."