During his years as a scientist and professor, Dan Golomb swam laps every night with unerring dedication. He had been athletic since he was a teenager in Germany, and in those early years the trait made a difference between life and death.
Dr. Golomb was sent to Auschwitz during World War II when he was a teen. He was in line with one of his sisters and her children and as they approached the place where the line divided, Nazi guards noted his strong, healthy appearance.
“The sister and her two small children were sent to the right,” said his wife, Claire. “He was sent to the left because he was a tall boy.”
Instead of dying at Auschwitz with his sister and her children, he went to Muhldorf, a forced labor camp in southern Bavaria, where he estimated that as the bitter winter began in 1944, the life expectancy of those arriving was about two months. They worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, carrying heavy bags of cement, pushing weighty wheelbarrows, and subsisting on daily rations of a liter of soup and a quarter loaf of bread each.
One guard took a liking to Dr. Golomb, and selected him on some days for less strenuous labor: dragging a cart laden with the corpses of the dozen or so prisoners who died in the barracks every night. Dr. Golomb brought the dead to a forest at the edge of town and dug a ditch to bury them in a mass grave.
“It was light work,” he wrote for a speech a half-century later, noting that had he not been chosen so often for that task, he would not have survived. “I felt fortunate to be selected.”
Dr. Golomb, a professor emeritus of environmental, earth, and atmospheric sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, died of heart failure May 23 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 84 and lived in Newton.
A scientist who took an early interest in the effects of climate change, he had previously been a scientist at the geophysics laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base and for the Environmental Protection Agency. He also had worked in the energy laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I had great admiration for his technical abilities and for his persistence in working on things that were very important,” said James A. Fay, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at MIT who was researching the impact of acid rain when he met Dr. Golomb.
They collaborated on several research projects and cowrote the 2002 book “Energy and the Environment.” Dr. Golomb wrote about global warming in the book, Fay recalled, adding that his friend “had a foresight about these things.”
“He had a wide range of knowledge,” Fay said. “It was a very rewarding experience for me to work with such a person.”
Long before the phrase “climate change” was in common use, Dr. Golomb had “a very keen environmental awareness of resources and being a steward of the world,” said his daughter, Anath of Durham, N.H., who was the first among her childhood contemporaries to know the word “ozone.”
Having survived the Holocaust, Dr. Golomb appreciated what his adopted country offered and “felt very grateful for the greenery, the peacefulness, the civility, the law-abiding nature of the citizens,” his daughter said.
Leading his family on camping trips in national parks, Dr. Golomb brought along a portable cassette player, and at night played pianist Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” as everyone drifted off to sleep.
Dr. Golomb, his daughter said, brought to all endeavors “a very intentional quality of life.”
Born in Wurzburg, Germany, Dr. Golomb grew up in Munich and what then was Zagreb, Yugoslavia. He was the youngest of six children in a family that splintered during the war as his father lost his work and some siblings died in the Holocaust.
Despite the horrors Dr. Golomb faced, “he came out so optimistic, a man who embraced life,” his wife said. “It’s not that he ever forgave this, but he had a generosity of spirit. Very much so.”
At war’s end, just before Allied forces arrived to liberate the labor camp, the Nazis placed the remaining Jews on a train and sent them away toward a still-functioning gas chamber at another concentration camp. The train traveled back and forth along the rails of southeast Germany for five days, each car filled with up to 100 people without food, water, or toilets.
On April 30, 1945, residents of Seeshaupt, Germany, opened the train and freed those inside. Dr. Golomb was 16 and near death from typhus. Fifty years later, Seeshaupt residents organized a commemoration, at which Dr. Golomb spoke about his experiences, perhaps for the first time in such detail.
After the war, he resumed school studies and moved to Israel, where he completed a doctorate in physical chemistry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
At a student party, he met Claire Schimmel. They married in 1954 and had two daughters, one of whom, Dr. Mayana Golomb, died of cancer in 2006.
“He was a very charming young man,” his wife recalled of their first encounters in Israel. “It didn’t take that much to fall in love with him. It certainly helped that he was extremely handsome.”
As a 10-year-old in Germany, she had been sent to the Netherlands, then into hiding to survive the Holocaust. Their meeting and marriage nearly a decade after the war “certainly was kind of a magic connection,” she said. “I was extremely fortunate to have him and to be so long together with him.”
A private service will be announced for Dr. Golomb, who in addition to his wife, Claire, and his daughter, Anath, leaves five grandchildren.
Having endured a disrupted youth, Dr. Golomb “had strong passions and really created who he wanted to be,” his daughter said.
Each night he slipped into a pool to swim laps in a series of pools, with backups ready in case one was unavailable.
“He would not miss a day, even if it meant being late for a big event, it was such a need for him,” his daughter said.
Another essential part of Dr. Golomb’s identity was his good nature, the charm that caught his future wife’s attention in Jerusalem and might have helped him survive years earlier.
“He was just a joy to be with,” his wife said, “a man who went through hell and came out to be such a kind and humane human being.”