Michael Gruenbaum is a Holocaust survivor. He wants others to remember that deplorable time. But the lessons he’s learned have nothing to do with payback and everything to do with character.
Born in 1930, Gruenbaum grew up in a Jewish family in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
On March 15, 1939, Nazis overtook Prague. They forced the Gruenbaums into a Jewish ghetto. This enclosed district with poor living conditions was designed to isolate Jews from the rest of society. The family relinquished all valuable belongings—books, rugs, art, jewelry. It was humiliating.
The family’s plight worsened. In 1941, Nazis executed Michael’s father for helping Czechs send valuables out of the country before the Nazis arrived.
The next year, Nazi authorities sent Michael, his mother, and his sister to Terezín, a concentration camp.
Michael roomed with 40 other boys. Some days found Terezín’s children at drama rehearsals and soccer games. Other days, the whole camp awaited the horrible news of who would be sent to Auschwitz—a Nazi death camp.
Three times, the Gruenbaums’ names were on the list. Each time, the family evaded being sent.
Michael’s mother, Margaret Gruenbaum, had a job at Terezín. It included sewing Christmas gifts for Nazi officers to give to their families.
In October 1944, the Gruenbaums again appeared on the list for transport. Margaret made a last-ditch effort. She informed her boss that if she left, Christmas teddy bears wouldn’t be completed. Thinking only of the gifts, a guard ordered the Gruenbaums pulled from the Auschwitz-bound train.
Gruenbaum still cherishes one of the bears he says saved his life.
On May 8, 1945, the Russian Army liberated Terezín. The Gruenbaums moved back to Prague but fled in 1948, two weeks after communists took over.
During a two-year stop in Cuba, Michael completed high school.
In 1950, the family immigrated to the United States. Michael graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—eight years after leaving Terezín.
Gruenbaum served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, earned a master’s degree, married, had three sons, and launched a successful consulting firm.
He wrote a children’s book about his life. It flowed from a desire “to let people know what happened and keep the Holocaust memory alive.”
Mistreatment and prejudice could be defeating. Instead, Gruenbaum is resilient.
People ask what he gained from his experiences. His answers reveal his character: “Don’t ever get married to your possessions,” he says, relating how his family had their belongings taken repeatedly. He adds, “Don’t ever accept no for an answer. . . . You just have to keep trying and trying.”
Why? The concepts of holding earthly treasure loosely and working heartily are biblical. (Luke 12:15, Colossians 3:23) What happens after that is up to the Judge of all the Earth.