The odds have certainly been against Michael Gruenbaum ’53. In his eighty-five years, the survivor of the Terezin concentration camp during World War II has overcome them each step of the way.
In this MIT Alumni Books Podcast, Gruenbaum discusses some of the odds-defying paths his life has taken, and the new memoir, Somewhere There Is Still a Sun, that he has published this year (with Todd Hasak Lowy) chronicling his experience at Terezin.
Gruenbaum was one of 12 boys, out of 80 (including the teacher) who passed through room 7 in school building L 417 in Terezin, not sent to Auschwitz. After the war, his family found passage to Cuba, where they beat the odds to gain entry to the United States. There, Gruenbaum somehow got admitted to MIT, despite missing six years of schooling during the war and hardly speaking English.
“I was not a stellar student, partially because I still had trouble understanding the language. I was competing with valedictorians, and I didn’t even know what a valedictorian was,” says Gruenbaum.
Furthermore, he was alone. ““I did not see any [other Holocaust survivors], as a matter of fact,” he says. “It was a different life: new continent, new language, new friends. You started all over again.”
Decades later, when Gruenbaum turned 80, he decided to write a memoir in the odds-against publishing market. “I wrote to 80 literary agents and publishers,” he says. Then finally, a yes, from Aladdin Books.