‘Haven’ for Sweeps


“Haven” is an intriguing but seriously flawed depiction of how nearly 1,000 European refugees were transported and admitted to the United States in 1944, which CBS-TV will present as a four-hour miniseries on Feb. 11 and 14 at 9 p.m.

The film is based on the remarkable experiences of Ruth Gruber and her book “Haven.” Gruber, now a vigorous 89, is a phenomenon who got her Ph.D. at 20, did stints as an Arctic explorer and foreign correspondent, and became special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes during the Roosevelt administration.

In June 1944, Ickes asked Gruber to fly to Naples, recently taken by the U.S. army, and escort the predominantly Jewish refugees, who were being admitted to the United States as a one-time gesture by Washington.

The first part of the miniseries chronicles the refugees’ 13-day voyage, threatened by Nazi air and submarine attacks and marked by friction with wounded GIs sharing the ship, as well as among the Jews from 18 different countries.

The second part shows the refugees after their arrival in a former army camp in Oswego, N.Y., where they are held for 18 months. Gruber fights doggedly with the Washington bureaucracies to grant more freedom to the refugees and allow them to stay in the United States after the war.

Natasha Richardson (Vanessa Redgrave’s beautiful daughter) acquits herself well in the demanding role of Gruber. Her screen mother is Anne Bancroft, forced to play the stereotypical Jewish mama, always worried about her daughter’s travel and eating habits, wondering aloud when she’ll get married.

Martin Landau plays Gruber’s father, a quiet man (no wonder), but a devoted husband and pal to his daughter. Hal Holbrook is Ickes and Henry Czerny, Colm Feore and Tamara Gorski are among the more noticeable refugees.

Outstanding in a minor role is Luke Kirby as a refugee boy who quickly adjusts to American ways.So much for the good news.

On the downside, screenwriter Suzette Couture and director John Gray apparently could not resist the temptation to insert gratuitous flashbacks of a torrid love affair between Gruber and a German student, which Gruber herself describes as more innocent. But that’s show biz.

Also annoying is the advertising campaign for “Haven,” which features a determined-looking Natasha, surmounted by the words “Her Courage Saved a Thousand Lives.”

As Gruber is the first to acknowledge, she escorted the preselected refugees from Naples, she did not save them. Again, the usual Hollywood hype, which does no harm, except to cheapen the deeds of those who actually risked their and their families’ lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

But there are deeper flaws. The most puzzling one is the apparent decision by the filmmakers to initially portray almost all the U.S. soldiers and the people of Oswego as a bunch of anti-Semites.

Sure, there was lots of prejudice against Jews, both as refugees and within the U.S. army — to both of which I can testify. But to smear almost all Americans of that generation with the broad brush of anti-Semitism is not only inaccurate but finds no justification in Gruber’s book.

In addition to numerous acts of personal kindness by both soldiers and townspeople, Gruber reports in her book the words of one of Oswego’s leading Jewish citizens that with few exceptions, “the town’s reaction to the refugees has been nearly one hundred percent favorable.”

The kindest explanation one can give for this unfair slanting is that the filmmakers wanted to dramatize the later “conversion” by once hostile soldiers and civilians as they got to know the refugees better.CBS will air “Haven” in two-hour installments, starting at 9 p.m. Sun., Feb. 11, and continuing Wed., Feb. 14.

Commentary


No Haven For Terror

By Bradley Shavit Artson

One of the most remarkable stories in the Bible is the deathbed scene of King David. The aged monarch, ready to hand over the rule of his kingdom, speaks to his son, the future King Solomon, about what Solomon ought to do after David has died. Trained as we are to expect the Bible to reflect love, forgiveness and compassion, it is shocking to read what David actually tells his son. Rather than instructing Solomon to start with a clean slate, to forgive everybody, to forget the wrongs that have been done to the monarchy, King David recounts a laundry list of those people who have offended the monarchy and harmed the nation. He bids his son to see that they don’t escape retribution.

As shocking as David’s brutality may be in our soft and forgiving world, King David is teaching us something about living with reality. His statesmanship is not for the world as we would like it to be, not for a world in which all people are committed to the very highest expressions of morality and decency. Rather, King David worked with a world much like our own. This is a world in which people will murder another person because they want to make a political statement, in which terrorists will explode a bomb in public because they oppose policy in another part of the world, in which fanatics will push a man in a wheelchair off of a cruiseliner in the open seas to make a statement. In such a world, compassion is no substitute for swift and simple justice. And compassion that precludes the execution of justice ultimately winds up being no compassion at all.

We see that hard reality in President Clinton’s bold attempt to make it clear that there is no haven for terrorism. Wherever in the world perpetrators of violence seek to hide, they will be found and they will be stopped. Too many innocents have been butchered to allow an idolatrous notion of national sovereignty to prevent us from being able to stop future acts of terrorism.

Indeed, the argument of national sovereignty fails, both on moral and legal grounds. In international law it is clear that national sovereignty does not confer upon a country the right to harbor aggressors against another country. The responsibility for preventing acts of aggression lies with the hosts of the would-be terrorists; to refuse to restrain the terror is itself an act of aggression. Therefore, if Sudan does not want to be attacked by outside forces, it needs to guarantee that Sudan won’t be the base for terrorists to develop chemical weapons. Afghani-stan needs to guarantee that it will not be the base from which zealots will launch their attacks. Failing willingness and a resolve on the part of Sudan or of Afghanistan to stop terrorists from using their soil as a base, it is not a violation of international law to do what these feeble hosts won’t do themselves.

But the moral issue that undergirds international law is no less clear: all of us as human beings have a mandate to fight the random assault against other human beings. In a world in which some people are willing to assault the divine image of their fellow human being, when there are terrorists willing to violate “Thou Shalt Not Murder” for the sake of a PR moment, then the democracies must show no less resolve. The democracies of the world must be willing to use force to stop terror.

The rabbis of the Talmud had it right. They said that “those who would be kind to the cruel ultimately will be cruel to the kind.” In a world in which terrorists are willing to exploit innocent people for the sake of their politics, to prevent bringing them to justice would be the greatest injustice of all.