Martin Greenfield was only fifteen years old when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz and later Buchenwald. He endured brutal and horrific conditions, coming face with some of the worst Nazis of all time including Dr. Mengele. The Nazis beat him, starved him, and tortured him. To survive, he nearly lost his humanity.
At one point, while working for the local mayor, Greenfield stole the rotten food being fed to to the rabbits. When the mayor's wife found out, she had him beaten. He swore revenge, but something changed when they next came face to face. He shared the story with Glenn on his TV show Monday night.
"I worked in ammunition factory in Buchenwald, and then they took 15 people [to the mayor's house]. I was strong enough, so I was one of them, because the mayor’s house was bombed, that we should clean it up. So I went to work hard," he said.
Among the wreckage of the house, Greenfield came across live rabbits in cages that had survived the bombing.
"Carrying to the lady there with a baby, the mayor’s wife, I guess she was, to see, this is your white rabbit with the cage. A piece of crumb fell. We didn’t eat nothing. I survived maybe because I grew up on a farm. I knew what I could eat when I found grass or something that is edible. And I took the piece of thing to bite from the floor."
"She’s a Nazi. She tells the Gestapo I ate up the food from the rabbits instead of saying thank you for the rabbits," he said. Greenfield was subsequently beaten by the Gestapo.
Greenfield swore that he would kill the woman after what she did to him.
After the liberation, Greenfield and some other boys got a gun and went after her. But something happened when he saw her standing with her baby.
"When I came with a machine gun with my friend, and when I saw the kid and I saw her, all of a sudden that was when I became human again," Greenfield said.
"That was the day after the liberation where I became the kid that was brought up by my parents to believe in God, never to kill anybody, only to teach them and show them passion that was taught to me by God that I should never kill anybody. I never used a gun in my life."
"That day I was human again because of that woman."
Correction: This story originally referred to Martin Greenfield as Martin Green. It has been corrected.
Read the transcript of the full interview below:
Glenn: Now, I want to introduce you to a man who chose hope in a completely hopeless situation and won. We were just sitting here in the break, and he was talking about how he is a servant at heart. He just wants to serve and make things better. His name is Martin Greenfield. He was 15 years old when his family was sent to Auschwitz, and he has a brand-new book out called The Measure of a Man. What a pleasure to meet you.
Martin: The pleasure is mine.
Glenn: Just a pleasure. The audience is going to be so excited to hear the rest of the story on your life, but let’s start at the beginning. You’re 15 years old. You met Mengele. You saw Mengele, and your family was separated. Can you tell me just a little bit?
Martin: I could tell you exactly what happened. When we arrived in Auschwitz from the ghetto at night on Saturday night locked in the cable car, you know, that we were with no bathrooms, nothing until we got there, the whole family together holding hands. My younger brother was four years old, and they sent me to put up as before I got there, so he held his older brother’s hand all night.
We got out, and I came in front of the man, and I looked at his boots, and I saw my picture, because you always as a kid look at the boots. Then I look up at the man, and the man moves me to the right. And then my mother and my brother she’s holding, he wants my mother to go to the right. My mother wouldn’t put down my brother. I let go of my brother’s hand. My mother took him to carry. My father to the right and everybody to the left, and I didn’t know nothing about Mengele or about ghettos. I was just barely 15 years old, not even 15, because it was March. August is when I would’ve been 15.
And I was a boy. I didn’t know about Gestapo or Mengele or the concentration camp, nothing. That was my feeling that minute. And then I was pushed to the right, and then my younger sister, she was blonde with blue eyes, and all of a sudden he put her to the right too. So three of us went to the right, and everybody, my grandfather, my grandmother, everybody on the left. I was on the right. Then we go to the right, and they take us to dress naked. And the guy comes over to shave my father and everybody when I was a kid.
And then they took us someplace, and they put the tattoos on my hand that I brought to show you anyway because I never let go of them. My number was 84406, no more name. My father was 84405, and my sister and they were so…but then I found out what Mengele did with the young blonde kids, that they practiced on them.
Glenn: So you go, you are in a horrific situation. Later…I hate to do this to your entire life. Please read this book, but let me just condense it down. There’s two things that I want to hit. One, you were at one point eating rotten food out of a rabbit cage, and the concentration or the mayor, his wife, caught you eating the food, correct?
Martin: Oh, you mean that was later the next in Buchenwald?
Martin: That was the worst thing that happened to me.
Glenn: And so you’re eating this, and she comes out.
Martin: Can you imagine? I work in ammunition factory in Buchenwald, and then they took 15 people. You know, I was strong enough, so I was one of them, because the mayor’s house was bombed, that we should clean it up. So I went to work hard. Me, they put in the basement to clean up the basement. It was bombed. The Americans bombed it because Roosevelt, whatever, because he made that deal with Stalin.
Glenn: Right. Right.
Martin: So I was there, and I cleaned up, and I find live rabbits. Can you imagine a boy saving, find something, like all of us know, saving any kind of life? Carrying to the lady there with a baby, the mayor’s wife, I guess she was, to see, this is your white rabbit with the cage. A piece of crumb fell. You know, we didn’t eat nothing. I survived maybe because I grew up on a farm. I knew which I could eat when I found grass or something that is edible. And I took the piece of thing to bite from the floor. She’s a Nazi. She tells the Gestapo I ate up the food from the rabbits instead of saying thank you for the rabbits. Can you imagine this, a woman, instead of saying you got my rabbits, so he should beat the crap out of me?
Glenn: Now here’s the turning point. There’s so much to this story that I really want you to please read this.
Martin: I’m going to tell you this whole story exactly what happened to me.
Glenn: We have to take a quick break, and I want you to tell me, because his life is truly amazing, and I want you to tell me the story, because you passed on an opportunity to hurt back, and then you’ve taken your life, and you have been with how many presidents now?
Martin: So you see this is what upset me a little bit.
Glenn: Hang on. Wait, don’t go into it yet. Just how many presidents have you been with?
Martin: I started Eisenhower liberated.
Martin: Eisenhower liberated me in concentration camp. He came with his other general, and they saw the piles of bodies that they couldn’t burn. The Jews were on the bottom, and I was the only guy because the Czechs, they didn’t march me to death because of my Czech friends. They said you are a Czech. You’re not a Jew. Stay with us. So I was the only Jew the rabbi found. He was looking for a Jew. He said, “I’m a rabbi. Are you Jewish? I’m looking for a Jew.” I said I’m a Jew. I’m a Jew. Come over here, talk to me. So he came over and talked to me.
I said you’re not a rabbi. You’re Jewish. You’re a soldier. He says no, I’m a soldier rabbi. So I’m asking you one question. Can you do me a favor, not for me, for my 4-year-old brother that I know now that he was burned? Where was God? Not for me, because I might have sinned. Maybe I deserved to be here, but my four-year-old boy had no sins whatsoever. He didn’t live long enough. He could have been a rabbi like you. Why didn’t God help him?
He says I can’t answer you because I’m not prepared to answer your questions, so I started crying. I started crying because I said to him who am I going to ask? You’re the rabbi. You’ve got to help me, thinking because I believe in God, save me. So I’m not asking for myself. My brother could have been a rabbi like you. You don’t know what he would have become. God didn’t know yet because he didn’t sin yet. All of us maybe have a little sin. Whatever happened, God is a busy man. I understand that.
Glenn: We are having the greatest conversation. We’re going to have to continue this online because we have three and a half minutes, and you have to know what this man has done since, because he dresses the presidents. He dresses stars. He has made the suits for…I mean, this guy has gone on to do amazing things, but the best thing, let’s go back to the lady that when she had you beaten for stealing the food.
Martin: I am telling you that that lady that hurt me that I was going to shoot, I was going to kill, I was going to do everything—
Glenn: You threatened her.
Martin: But when I came with a machine gun with my friend, whatever, and when I saw the kid and I saw her, all of a sudden that was when I became human again. That was the day after the liberation where I became the kid that was brought up by my parents to believe in God, never to kill anybody, only to teach them and show them passion that was taught to me by God that I should never kill anybody. I never used a gun in my life.
I want to just deal with people and instill in them something that was taught to me to be a person that respects somebody else, not kill them, teach them how to become a person, believe in God like I do. And that day I was human again because of that woman.
Glenn: You went to her house. She was holding her baby.
Martin: I went to her, and I didn’t kill her. And I went a second time. The only thing I wanted to take her husband’s car, and I took the car. Who’s going to drive? I do everything. I found the car, and I drive it to the camp. It doesn’t matter. It’s just that I thank God that my parents brought me up the right way, and from then on, I educated myself, and I worked hard.
America, when I got that green card, I became an American like you and later a citizen. When I got my citizen papers, the guy questioned me with stupid questions, and I said can I ask you a few questions? He didn’t know about the Constitution. He didn’t know everything what I knew. I read every book about America. I says you’re supposed to work for me. I pay you. You should know more than me. I should have your job. You should have mine.
But this is what I became. This country, I thank the soldiers. I saw there that you read the letters, what I wrote in the post. I thank the soldiers. I wrote those letters. I wrote this letter about a woman. I wish other people would read the same thing and behave what I had the experience to go through.
Glenn: What happened to her? She died.
Martin: So thank you for having me.
Glenn: Oh my gosh, thank you. It is such an honor. It is really truly an honor.
Martin: The honor is mine.
Glenn: I want you to read this book, The Measure of a Man. You have to know this man’s story. We’ve only touched the surface. Thank you. God bless you.