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Otto-Karl Gruenbaum

Vienna, Austria

Born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Otto grew up in a city well known for its musical tradition. The younger of two children, Otto began studying the piano at age 10. After entering the Vienna Conservatory of Music, he gave his first concert at age 14. Encouraged by Maestro Bruno Walter, he hoped to become a conductor and concert pianist.

1933-39: After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, Otto was kicked out of the Vienna Conservatory. One night, two men ordered him to go with them to a cellar, where they forced other people to mop and scrub. They told Otto to wait his turn, but in the confusion he escaped. To get out of Austria, he entered a piano contest in Belgium. From Belgium he went to France, and then sailed for America on August 11, 1939.

1940-44: In New York Otto gave piano lessons and concert recitals. He also gave benefit performances for Austrian resistance groups and Jewish refugees from Europe. After the U.S. entered the war, Otto was given a choice--either join the U.S. Army or be deported as an enemy alien. He chose the army. In October 1944 he was sent into combat in France and southern Germany. His job was to interrogate German prisoners; they all denied knowing anything about concentration camps, but Otto had already seen the camps with his own eyes.

Otto was stationed in Germany at the end of the war. A day before he was to return to America, he was killed. The cause of his death is still under investigation.

 

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