The day a Holocaust survivor (now world famous tailor) got revenge on his tormentor
He survived the savagery of the Holocaust, made it to America with barely a penny and became a world-famous tailor in Brooklyn, dressing celebrities and presidents. In his new memoir, “Measure of a Man,” Martin Greenfield tells the story of his extraordinary life. In this excerpt, he explains how the concentration camps nearly stripped him of his humanity at age 16 — and the day he got it back.
While at Buchenwald, the SS assigned me to work in the munitions factory. But early one morning after roll call, a soldier placed me on a 12-prisoner team to perform repairs outside the camp in nearby Weimar.
Working in the city was a welcome distraction from camp life. Sometimes you got lucky and spotted a potato in a field or smuggled a trinket to trade for food. Either way, it was a chance to see the sky, escape the stench of rotting corpses, and confirm that there was still a world beyond the barbed wire.
We loaded our gear and marched the few miles to Weimar. The soldiers stopped us in front of a bombed-out mansion, home to the mayor of Weimar. A big black Mercedes sat out front. The soldiers commanded us to sift the rubble, clear the debris, and begin repairs on the mansion.
I walked alone to the back of the estate to assess the damage. Dusty piles of broken bricks lay scattered across the yard. Seeing the cellar door ajar, I slowly opened it. A shaft of sunlight filled the dank cellar. On one side of the space sat a wooden cage wrapped in chicken wire. I walked closer and noticed two quivering rabbits inside the cage.
“They’re still alive!” I said to myself with surprise.
Inside the cage were the remains of the rabbits’ dinner. I unlatched the cage and pulled out a wilted leaf and carrot nub. The lettuce was browning and slimy, the carrot still moist from the rabbits’ gnawing. Excited, I wolfed down the lettuce and tried to crack the chunk of carrot in half with my teeth.
THEN AND THERE I MADE A VOW TO MYSELF: IF I SURVIVED BUCHENWALD, I WOULD RETURN AND KILL THE MAYOR’S WIFE.
My luck was short-lived. “What are you doing?” a voice yelled.I whipped my head around toward the door. A gorgeous, smartly dressed blond woman holding a baby stood silhouetted in the door frame. It was the mayor of Weimar’s wife.
“I . . . I found your rabbits!” I stammered with a cheerful nervousness. “They’re alive and safe!”
“Why in the hell are you stealing my rabbits’ food?” barked the woman. “Animals!” I stood silent and stared at the floor.
“I’m reporting this immediately!” she said, stomping away. My heart pounded in my emaciated chest. A few minutes later, an SS soldier ordered me to come out of the cellar. I knew what was coming, and the knowing made it all the worse.
“Down on the ground, you dog! Fast!” yelled the German. He gripped his baton and bludgeoned my back. I do not know whether the mayor’s wife watched the beating. Given her cruelty, why would she want to miss it? On the hike back to Buchenwald, I replayed the scene over and over in my mind.
How could a woman carrying her own child find a walking skeleton saving her pets and have him beaten for nibbling on rotten animal food? I thought.
In that moment, my numbness to death melted. In its place rose an alien blood lust, a hunger for vengeance unlike any I had ever known. The surge of adrenaline and rush of rage felt good inside my withered frame.
Then and there I made a vow to myself: If I survived Buchenwald, I would return and kill the mayor’s wife.
On April 11, 1945, 3:15 p.m., the Allies liberated Buchenwald.
Physically, I was free. Emotionally, I was in chains. I’d made a promise to myself. And I intended to keep it.
I located two Jewish boys who were
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