You have to admit, WWII for all its awfulness, was a great time for women in the spy trade. We’ve seen operatives, cryptographers, and inventors, and now, we have another to add to the list: human smugglers. Considering the heated American debate on illegal immigration in America, Ruth Klieger Aliav (19??-1979) is a worthy dame to examine.
Ruth was either born in 1914 or 1907 and she was either born in Romania proper or in what is now the Ukraine (a matter of semantics, I know, but people do go to war over this stuff). Ruth’s autobiography and documentation seem to be at odds concerning the official accounts of her life.
Now Ruth not only sported a big-bad-brain, but also a talent for linguistics. Upon graduation of the University of Vienna, she had her law degree and was fluent in 9 languages.
In 1935, our gal emigrated to Israel fulfilling a life-long dream. She married and settled down on a kibbutz and had a child. However, neither the marriage or the life seem to have satisfied Ruth, and after the death of her child from meningitis, she moved to Tel-Aviv where she was recruited into the Mossad.
In 1939, Ruth was sent into Romania and with her style, wits and connections, she not only helped smuggle out Jews but also to import arms and coordinate resistance activities.
In 1942, saw Ruth landing in Egypt where she was taking Jews overland into Palestine. During her stop-over, she discovered a corp of Egyptian Officers sympathetic to the Nazis. Ruth called in French Freedom forces, helped land Anwar el Sadat in jail, and continued on her merry way.
At the end of the war, Ruth was sent back into France in time for liberation, and during this period, she helped minister Jewish displaced persons and refugees. In 1945, she was bestowed the rank of honorary colonel in the US Army by none other than Eisenhower himself. She also managed to convince an American officer in charge of displaced Jews to “lend” her a boat to take Jewish orphans to Palestine. However, when the ship arrived in Haifa, it also contained 2600 older, displaced persons as well.
So here’s where Ruth’s activities become messy. During the entire war, there was a covert-operation sponsored by Mossad called Aliya Bet. Aliya Bet was the coordinated effort of Jews to illegally populate Palestine in direct violation of British Mandate.
Now, depending on how and where you come down on this subject, this leads to very different views of Ruth and her activities. One, is that Ruth is a sort of Harriet Tubman in leading Jews to freedom during a decidedly horrific time in history. The other view is that the Aliya Bet’s intentions was to usurp the Palestinians with a Jewish population long before the war occurred, hence, the war and its atrocities further served to achieve that goal. Now considering there are over 3 million Palestinians today, living refugee camps for the last 60 years with no state and no citizenship and their food, water, electricity and general living conditions controlled by the Jewish state, you could also see where some people would see Ruth in terms of what we Americans would call Coyote, and illegal trafficker of immigrants.
Unfortunately, this is also where America begins a long, sad, and strained relationship with the Middle East. While the British were none too pleased at Ruth’s activities, the publicity could not allow them to deny the entry of the refugees in Haifa. However, Eisenhower, or at least those on his staff, had become convinced of the necessity of Aliya Bet and wanted more ships with more refugees to be allowed into Palestine. Eisenhower eventually shot down this plan because of the pressure exerted by the British in this matter.
Following the war, Ruth became a fundraiser for Mossad in both South and North America. She also continued her work with immigrants entering Israel, but, after 10 frustrating years of ill-treatment simply due to being a woman, Ruth went on to work with the Israeli shipping company ZIM.
Ruth’s work in public relations with ZIM brought her into contact with Hollywood luminaries, painters, and even Helen Keller when they toured Israel. During these years, Ruth also changed her last name to add “Aliav”, a variation on Aliya Bet, to her official passport. She wrote her memoirs shortly before her death and it sold over 2 million copies.
Ruth passed on in 1979. She is buried in Israel.