Friday, February 14, 2003 | return to: obituaries


Robert St. John, non-Jewish Zionist, Mideast journalist

by RUTH E. GRUBER, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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ROME -- Robert St. John, a journalist, author and tireless supporter of Israel, died Feb. 6 near Washington at age 100.

During a 75-year career in which he worked on five continents, St. John chronicled World War II and befriended Israel's founding fathers.

An eloquent non-Jewish spokesman for Jewish causes, he maintained close ties with the Jewish state and was honored by Jewish and Israeli institutions.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, called him "our goyisher Zionist."

St. John made his name as a foreign correspondent covering World War II for the Associated Press and NBC Radio.

The persecution of Jews that St. John witnessed during World War II helped instill in him a deep and enduring interest in Israel, Jewish issues and anti-Semitism.

Covering the January 1941 pogrom in Bucharest, when Romanian fascists tortured and killed about 170 Jews, marked a watershed for him.

"I realized that I had been born into a group that had been doing this sort of thing for 2,000 years and therefore had to bear some of the responsibility," later recalled St. John, who had sheltered a local Jewish family to save them from the massacre. "I promised myself that if I lived out the war, I'd spend the rest of my life trying to atone for these sins, for the atrocities committed in Bucharest by men born Christian and presumably exposed to Christian precepts they had so barbarically violated."

St. John, who was born in Chicago, covered the birth of Israel in 1948 and eventually made more than 40 reporting trips to the Middle East.

He covered the Eichmann trial and five Arab-Israeli wars, including the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. At that time, he was 80, by far the oldest of the hundreds of reporters on hand, and the only one who had covered all four previous Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Many of St. John's 22 books were on Jewish or Israeli topics.

John is survived by his second wife, Ruth, whom he married in 1965.

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