Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Measure of a Man"

My mom bought me the book Measure of a Man for Christmas, and we read it last month. It's the true story of Martin Greenfield, one of the greatest and well-known tailors of our time. He's dressed everyone from A-list celebrities to famous sports figures to presidents. He is one of the busiest suit makers around, and his company has even made the wardrobes for the characters in many recent movies like, The Great GatsbyArgoThe Wolf of Wall Street and the television series, Boardwalk Empire.

But before Martin was a successful tailor to the rich and famous, he was Maximilian Grunfeld. He was born on August 9, 1928, in Pavlovo, Czechoslovakia. In 1944, when Martin was just 15, Nazi soldiers surrounded the tiny village where Martin and his family lived. The Jews were given one hour to pack up their belongings before being loaded onto cattle cars and shipped to Auschwitz. Upon arriving at the concentration camp, Martin was separated from his family. His parents, grandparents and siblings (two older sisters and a younger brother) were all taken away, and Martin never saw them again. He later found out that they were all put to death.
Grunfeld family (minus the baby brother)
Martin told a story in the book about one day when he was sent from camp (he'd been reassigned from Auschwitz to Buchenwald) to do some repairs on one of the bombed out mansions in the nearby city of Weimar. After arriving at the damaged house (which belonged to the mayor of Weimar), he walked around to the back of the estate to survey the damage to see what all needed to be repaired. He saw the cellar door ajar, so he walked inside and saw a crate with two rabbits in it. He saw a nub of carrot and some rotten lettuce in the crate; the remains of the rabbits' dinner from the night before. He wolfed down the lettuce and reached for the piece of carrot. Just then, the mayor's wife caught him in the act. Martin tried to hide the fact that he was eating the rabbits' food because he knew he would be in serious trouble. He pleaded with the mayor's wife to have mercy on him, but she scolded him and ordered one of the Nazi soldiers to beat him. As Martin walked back to Buchenwald, he replayed the scenario in his head. He was so incensed at the cruelty of the woman that he vowed to return and kill her if he made it out of Buchenwald alive.
On April 11, 1945, Buchenwald was liberated by the Allied forces. Martin talked about the thrill of seeing the Allied soldiers (specifically General Dwight D. Eisenhower) march through the camp announcing that the Jews were free. Martin had made a promise to himself, so he found a deserted machine gun and went back to the mayor of Weimar's house. When he crept inside the house, the woman called out, "Hello?" When the woman came into view, Martin raised the machine gun, aimed it at the woman's chest and said, “You had me beaten because of the rabbits. I’m here to shoot you!” The woman froze in her tracks and started protesting. Just then, the woman's baby (which was in her arms) wailed. Martin's finger hovered above the trigger, but he just couldn’t go through with it. He said that that was the moment he became human again. All of the teachings from his youth came rushing back to him. He'd been raised to believe that life was a precious gift from God, and that women and children must be protected. He lowered the machine gun and left.

When Martin was in one of the concentration camps, he was assigned to work in the laundry. One day he was washing of one of the Nazi uniforms when he scrubbed the collar too hard and it tore. Martin was beaten for this, of course, but when the Nazi soldier left, one of the other Jews working in the laundry taught him how to mend the shirt. This was Martin's first experience with sewing. Martin emigrated to America two years after the war ended, and he lived with some long-lost relatives. This was when he anglicized his name from Maximilian Grunfeld to Martin Greenfield in an attempt to give himself a fresh start. He started working for GGG Clothing, one of the largest clothing manufacturers of its day. Martin started working as a floor boy, and worked his way from the ground floor up. He worked hard over the years, climbing the ranks and doing whatever he could to be the best hand made tailor he could. 30 years later, Martin bought the GGG factory. He's still running it to this day, with his sons, Jay and Tod. Incredible!

One thing I loved most about Martin is his love of family. He talked about his absolute disdain for people who take their family for granted and cut them off with almost no thought for the precious gift they are discarding. Martin would have given ANYthing to have even one of his family members back, after all of them had been murdered. It made him so angry to think of people choosing to disown their own family members. When Martin moved to America he couldn't wait to get married and have children, and he truly longed for the day when he would get his second chance to have a family. That's why I think it's so special that Martin and his sons work together.

Measure of a Man was such a great book. I had to leave out SO many details, but just know that this book is definitely worth the read. Martin is one fascinating, talented and hard-working man!

Picture of Martin, shortly before emigrating to America (front, left in suit). Below that is a picture of Martin and his wife, Arlene, who Martin married in 1956.
Martin has dressed at least three presidents. Here is with President Clinton, and then Martin and his two sons with President Obama:


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an amazing bloke.

It's awful that the woman had him beaten just for eating the rabbits' food.

He sounds a very forgiving bloke.

I wonder if the book will be made into a film, if it is it'll certainly be one to see.

Anonymous said...

I love the way you described the story. I am going to have to buy it and tell you if I liked it.

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