In light of the horrific events that struck Sydney this week, it seems apt that I have just finished reading this wonderful story of Martin Greenfield’s triumph over evil.
Having read many Holocaust stories of miraculous survival, I had a certain sense of what to expect in this memoir. What surprised me though was the joie de vivre with which Greenfield tells his story. The cover of this books clearly captures its essence: a smiling Greenfield, a man who makes the most of every moment, living life to its fullest. That’s not to say that Greenfield’s story wasn’t horrific and sad and confronting and terrifying. However, Greenfield’s passion for life is inspired by his father’s parting words in Auschwitz:
“Together we will never survive, because working together we will suffer one for the other. We will suffer double. We must separate… On your own you will survive … If you survive by yourself, you must honour us by living, by not feeling sorry for us. That is what you must do.”
It is this that carries Greenfield through, infusing him with an austerity and conviction which lead him to survive.
There is no doubt in my mind that Greenfield was destined for greatness, whether because of divine intervention or a cosmic coincidence, I will leave to your imagination. But no one can question the magic of his encounters – he stands on line in Buchenwald next to Elie Wiesel, he socialises with Frank Sinatra and then works with Donna Karen, Calvin Klein and other top designers, dressing presidents and fitting out actors in block buster films. The incongruency of these liaisons against the background of Greenfield’s life experience is dazzling.
The magical essence of Greenfield’s character is displayed when, upon liberation, he confronts Rabbi Herschel Schacter with the question: “Where was G-d?” Schacter’s response is chilling: “There are no answers to certain questions … That is a question to which their is no answer.” However, for me, the goose bump moment in this very simple but honest memoir, occurs when Greenfield is invited to the ground breaking ceremony for the U.S Holocaust Museum. It’s worth quoting the entire section:
“During the ceremony, an old rabbi got up to make some remarks. His face looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him.
“I know that rabbi from somewhere,” I whispered … The rabbi continued speaking. He explained that he had witnessed the Nazi atrocities of the Holocaust firsthand as a chaplain in the U.S. Third Army, which liberated Buchenwald. No way, I thought. It can’t be him. And then, as if God Himself were winking down at me, the rabbi told a story that I knew well. After the liberation, he recounted, a young boy had asked him a question he could not answer: “Where was God?”
“It’s him!” I said excitedly to Arlene. After the ceremony, I found the rabbi. “Rabbi Schacter, my name is Martin Greenfield. I was at Buchenwald. I was the little boy who asked you the question.”
Such is the story of Martin Greenfield’s life.