Impact in Profile: Martin Gruber

Impact in Profile: Martin Gruber

After two years of cursory research and interest, Martin Gruber was able to start a full-time job as USC Shoah Foundation’s 2017 Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service intern this October, one entire year early. And he couldn’t be more pleased.

The Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service is an alternative to Austria’s compulsory national military service. Instead of serving in the Austrian military for six months, men may intern with Holocaust remembrance organizations abroad (or with social service organizations at home). Like his predecessor, Andro Ofenheimer, Gruber will work full-time at USC Shoah Foundation for the next year to fulfill his service requirement.

“I think this is the best destination, easily,” Gruber said.

Gruber, who was raised in Upper Austria but finished his secondary schooling in  Vienna, said he first became interested in World War II and Holocaust history through his mother, a historian. Although her focus was on Medieval history in Europe, she never failed to instill in him lessons about the value of understanding one’s history, especially in a country so close to the roots of the Holocaust like Austria.

“We also had several family members who were involved with World War II and the Holocaust,” Gruber said. “For example, a relative of my grandmother had a mental illness, and when she looked for treatment, the doctor told her not to report it anywhere. The government did not want to have people who were not healthy at all – she would be murdered.”

The history of his state – where Adolf Hitler was born – also sparked Gruber’s interest in learning more about the history of the war.

“It started with watching documentary films and reading books about it,” Gruber said. “I get every year a history book for Christmas, now.”

After his mother brought up the possibility of substituting his military service with an internship program, Gruber contacted Ofenheimer to find out more about his position at USC Shoah Foundation.

“Especially Andro [Ofenheimer] was the reason why I’m here now,” Gruber said. Ofenheimer helped Gruber get in touch with the office managers at USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles and filled him in about California culture.

The program, and especially placement at USC Shoah Foundation, is in such high demand that future interns must plan out their service several years in advance. Indeed, Gruber had intended to come to Los Angeles next year – but he got lucky when the intern scheduled to work at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust decided to leave the program at the last second.

The Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service extended him the offer to start early, and Gruber insisted on working with USC Shoah Foundation, in part because he felt more comfortable working around people near his age.

“It’s a little bit more interactive, a little bit easier for me,” Gruber said.

Other interns opting out of their military service have been placed with similar institutions, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, and Yad Vashem.

On the job for about a month so far, Gruber has already begun helping with the administrative tasks that help the Institute run smoothly.

“I’m doing travel reimbursements, mainly,” Gruber said. “Sometimes I’m on the front desk or do things like coffee inventory. I recently picked up donors’ checks...It’s the things behind the Institute.”

Gruber says he’s happy to be supporting USC Shoah Foundation in any way that he can.

“I think many people here in America do not know so much about the Holocaust or in general about World War II the way people do in Europe,” Gruber said. “Here in the United States, it’s very important to have institutions that are working with this history and bringing that information to people, so that the dramatic things that happened there should never happen again. If the people don’t know it, then it will happen again.”

Gruber will be at USC Shoah Foundation through the end of the university’s school year. After he leaves the Institute, he plans to work as an engineer with the technical training he gleaned in secondary school.