Last Thursday evening, members of the campus community gathered for a memoir reading with Michael Gruenbaum and Michael Kraus, who shared their respective stories as Holocaust survivors. The event was hosted by the Center for German and European Studies and took place in the Mandel Reading Room.

Gruenbaum’s memoir, “Somewhere There Is Still a Sun,” details his experience during the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia, opening with his childhood in Prague and the events that led up to his internment and eventual liberation from the Theresienstadt concentration camp, also known as Terezin. He first recorded his account at 85 years old.

Kraus’ memoir was first published in Czech under the title “Deník,” meaning diary, and in the U.S. is known as “Drawing the Holocaust: A Teenager’s Memory of Terezin.” It has also been translated into German and, as of this month, Hebrew. As its original namesake, Kraus’ memoir started out as a diary, which he wrote as a 15-year-old immediately following the war. It details his account of his experiences in Terezin, Auschwitz and the death march to Mauthausen.

Although the event was advertised as a memoir reading, neither Gruenbaum nor Kraus read from the books themselves, instead reading off of pages of notes. Gruenbaum spoke first, briefly describing his family’s life of hardship and discrimination in Prague during the German occupation. “We had to turn in our car, ... jewelry, oriental rugs, artwork, radios; ... Anything of any value had to be turned in under the threat of death,” he said.

Following his father’s murder in 1942, Gruenbaum, his mother and his aunt were sent to Terezin. Of his and his mother’s survival, he said, “In spite of my mother’s amazing perseverance, we still needed also a stroke of luck.”

Kraus opened his story in counterpoint to Gruenbaum’s. Unlike Gruenbaum’s childhood in Prague, Kraus grew up in a small town on the German border of Czechoslovakia, where there were fewer Jewish people in the community. As such, the segregating decrees of the German occupation and the resulting isolation were “probably much more oppressive, especially to a young boy,” Kraus said. Even in Terezin, he lived in a small children’s home, whereas “[Gruenbaum] belonged to the Harvard University of Terezin,” he said, a remark received with audience laughter.

Though Kraus was separated from his mother months before he, at 14-teen years old, was forced onto a death march, he, too, ascribed his survival to his mother. “I had the firm conviction that [my mother] would survive, and what was driving me on to survive was the thought that ... if she survived and I didn’t, it would be heartbreaking for Mother,” he said. “So I kept going. It was very important that I had some kind of a driving force that kept me alive, especially on the death march.”

Following their stories, Gruenbaum and Kraus answered questions from the audience. One individual asked Kraus when and how he decided to tell his children about his experiences in the Holocaust. Kraus’ wife, who had accompanied him to the event, replied that he didn’t. Kraus further elaborated his feelings toward his memories and his experiences and, in the end, said, “I have never found a language that would be understandable between me and someone who had not been in Mauthausen or Auschwitz as a prisoner.”

When asked how he came up with the title of his book, Gruenbaum responded that it came from the first letter his mother wrote after her liberation from Terezin and read the passage from the introduction of his book: “We do not yet know how the future will shape up for us, ... but somewhere in the world, there is still a sun, ... and perhaps again the rebuilding of a new life.”