Dan Grunfeld: By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream

by | Oct 12, 2022 | What’s Happening

Holocaust Commission pick for

Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival

Wednesday, November 2, 7:30 pm
Sandler Family Campus


Basketball was first included as a medal event in the Summer Olympics in 1936 in Berlin. During those Olympics, Hitler showed the world a whitewashed Nazi Germany. Antisemitic signage around the city was removed and Nazi SD and SS halted most of the arrests and detentions of Jews in and around Berlin for the duration of the world’s attention. Still, Jewish athletes were barred from competing for Germany, and even the United States pulled two Jewish members of the 400-meter relay team that included Jesse Owens and accounted for one of his four gold medals. After the Olympics, the Nazis reinstituted and increased their antisemitic vitriol, and what would become the Holocaust ensued.

Forty years after Berlin, at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, a young Jewish refugee, the child of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, played for the United States’ basketball gold medal winning team. That man was Ernie Grunfeld, who became one of the NBA’s biggest stars, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Kansas City Kings, and New York Knicks, before managing the Knicks and other NBA teams.

Grunfeld’s son, Dan, a standout basketball player while at Stanford who also played professionally for eight seasons in top leagues around the world, is the first featured author for the 2022–2023 Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival. The younger Grunfeld will be in Tidewater discussing the family stories from his book, By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream.

By the Grace of the Game is a multi-generational family epic detailing history’s only known journey from Auschwitz to the NBA.

“I love the book,” says Joel Rubin, who will moderate the discussion with Grunfeld. “It mixes the most troubling history the world has ever known—the Holocaust—with sports, specifically basketball, at which Dan and his father Ernie excelled at multiple levels. You learn how Ernie’s parents were miraculously able to avoid Auschwitz, and then survive to later bring their sons on an incredible journey to the United States.”

“When looking for effective ways to teach Holocaust history to young people, sports is a wonderful way to open the door,” says Elena Barr Baum, former director of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Holocaust Commission. Baum brought Dan Grunfeld to the attention of the Book Festival committee. “Books like Dan’s, like 2014’s Boys in the Boat, hook kids’ interest in sports into what is a very difficult history to teach. That is why the Commission often gives such books to schools as part of its White Rose program.”

Rubin says, “Many basketball fans, like me, have heard of and admired Ernie Grunfeld, but never knew what it took for him to escape Europe, and how hard both he and his son worked to become leaders in their chosen sport. I can’t wait to meet Dan and help him share his life experiences with our community.”

For more information or to register, visit JewishVA.org/BookFest or contact Hunter Thomas, director of Arts + Ideas, at HThomas@UJFT.org.

The Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival is held in coordination with the Jewish Book Council, the longest-running organization devoted exclusively to the support and celebration of Jewish literature.

Hunter Thomas