Measure of a Man

Martin Greenfield
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Posted: Nov 10, 2014 12:01 AM
Measure of a Man

Editor's note: Excerpted from Martin Greenfield’s new book 'Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to President’s Tailor,' available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

My heartbeat quickened the closer we got to the mayor’s house. Pent-up rage from all I had seen and experienced surged through me. Killing the mayor’s wife could not repay the Nazis for the terror they had inflicted on us. But it was a start.

We walked a few miles before turning down the street the mayor’s home was on. I pointed to a house several paces down the road: “I think that’s it.” The big black Mercedes was not out front. It took me a moment to make sure I had the right house.

“You sure this is it?” one of the boys asked.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“What’s the plan?” the other boy asked.

“The car isn’t here. Looks like the house is empty,” I said. “The plan is we take our guns and go in through the side door. Then we hide and wait so I can kill the blonde bitch that had me beaten.”

The boys nodded.

“OK, let’s go,” I said.

We crept up to the side door. I slowly turned the knob. It was unlocked. I entered the house quietly, with my gun drawn. The boys fell in behind me and eased the door shut. We stepped softly to mute the sounds of our wooden clogs on the floor.

“Hello?” a voice around a corner said. “Hello?”

Just then the beautiful blonde woman turned the corner and let out a screech. She had the baby in her arms again.

“Don’t shoot!” she screamed. “Don’t shoot!

“Remember me?!” I yelled. “Do you?!”

Her blonde tresses shook violently. She hid her face behind her upraised hand as if shielding herself from the sun.

“You had me beaten because of the rabbits. I’m here to shoot you!” I said, sounding like an SS.

“No! Please!” she quavered. “The baby, please!”

I aimed the machine gun at her chest. The baby wailed. My finger hovered above the trigger.

“Shoot her!” one of the boys said. “Shoot her!” The woman’s outstretched hand trembled in the air. My heart pounded against my chest like a hammer.

“Shoot her!” the other boy yelled. “That’s what we came here for! Do it!”

I froze. I couldn’t do it. I could not pull the trigger. That was the moment I became human again. All the old teachings came rushing back. I had been raised to believe that life was a precious gift from God, that women and children must be protected. Had I pulled the trigger, I would have been like Mengele. He too had faced mothers holding babies—my mother holding my baby brother—and sentenced both to gruesome deaths. My moral upbringing would not allow me to become an honorary member of the SS.

Still, extending mercy felt weak. I tried to save face in front of the boys. If I couldn’t be a hardened killer, I could at least be a car thief. “Where is the car?” I yelled.

“There is nothing,” she said.

“Where is it?!” I barked.

“It’s not here,” she said.

I lowered the gun and stomped out of the house and went around back.

“You made us come here for nothing?” one of the boys huffed.

“I couldn’t shoot her,” I said. “She had a baby!”

“How many babies did they kill?” he quipped. He had a point.

We walked to the large barn behind the house and unlatched the heavy wooden doors. There, covered with hay, sat the big black Mercedes. “That lying Nazi bitch!” one of the boys yelled. I was livid. I’d spared her life and she lied to my face.

“Wait here,” I told the boys. I marched back in the house, gun drawn, and found her. “This time I’m really going to shoot you,” I said. “Give me the keys!” She gave me the keys. I jogged back to the boys and the car. “I got them,” I said rattling the keys in my hand.

“Who knows how to drive?” one of the boys asked.

“Don’t worry, I do,” I said. We brushed off the hay and hopped in the car.

“Hurry up! Let’s get out of here,” one of the boys said.

I set my machine gun on the floorboard and slid the key into the ignition. I was a little rusty but knew how to drive from my auto mechanic days in Budapest. The big German engine cranked loud and strong. I pulled out of the Weimar mayor’s mansion driveway and punched the gas.

What a sight we must have been: three teenage Jews in striped prisoner uniforms, armed with machine guns, driving a black Mercedes in Weimar, Germany, on our way back to the Buchenwald concentration camp. We smiled, laughed, and talked tough like the men we weren’t.