Remembering Martin Greenfield


Martin Greenfield first discovered to stitch as a prisoner in Auschwitz. By the top of his profession, he had tailor-made fits for presidents, film stars, and the well-to-do of New York Metropolis.


Typically a headline simply grabs you. I had simply completed placing my children to mattress the opposite evening once I checked The New York Instances’ web site and skim this one. Martin Greenfield, tailor to Sinatra, Obama, Trump and Shaq, dies at 95. Greenfield’s work with that eclectic mixture of style-setters would not even inform half of the story. He survived the Holocaust as a baby. The truth is, he first encountered facets of tailoring when he was a prisoner at Auschwitz, and established himself in New York in a real American dream story arc. I learn each phrase of this text. I discovered it so shifting that I instantly began sending notes saying we should always speak to the creator, and that’s precisely what we had been doing now.

Alex Traub wrote Greenfield’s New York Instances obituary. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ALEX TRAUB: Thanks for having me, Scott.

DETROW: , there is a highly effective scene on this piece about how Greenfield first realizes that garments can equal energy. Are you able to inform us about that?

TRAUB: Nicely, he is at Auschwitz. He is an adolescent. He is malnourished. He is working within the laundry room. And he scrubs too arduous one of many Nazi troopers’ shirts and rips it, rips the collar. And the soldier discovers this, hurls the shirt at a younger Martin Greenfield and beats him. And with a view to mend the shirt, another person within the laundry room, an older man, teaches him methods to sew. And simply following an intuition, he slips the Nazi’s shirt underneath his striped jail shirt, and he discovers it modifications the best way folks deal with him at Auschwitz. He is ready to wander the grounds in a manner he could not earlier than.

At one level, he is working in a hospital kitchen. And if he takes further meals, troopers someway assume the collar signifies he is allowed to do it. So he then rips one other shirt and will get away with it. And he thinks of the 2 shirts collectively as a type of wardrobe. And he says that they enabled him to outlive the Holocaust. And in order that’s his origin story for considering garments have energy.

DETROW: And there are such a lot of exceptional particulars in his life that you simply captured, however amongst them is that on the finish of the warfare, Basic Dwight Eisenhower excursions the camp. Greenfield remembers this picture. Years later, he finally tailors a swimsuit for Eisenhower. As soon as he survives the Holocaust and makes his technique to America, how does he set up himself and develop into such a outstanding tailor?

TRAUB: He – there’s one other refugee who he is aware of who has a job at what’s then known as GGG tailor. And so he will get a job as a ground boy, which was the time period then for somebody who went from one station to a different, mainly ferrying objects via the entire manufacturing unit. And he talks about himself and this pal of his because the best-dressed refugees in Brooklyn as a result of they had been each getting their custom-made fits from GGG. And in order that’s how he will get a begin. And early on, he would not – he is a bit pissed off. And he says to his supervisor, educate me how every thing works. I would like to grasp what I am doing. After which that occurs. And he positive factors an understanding of how the entire tailoring operation works. He research each single totally different activity. And he thinks to himself, I wish to be the most effective.

DETROW: I feel this story was so highly effective to so many individuals for lots of causes, however the principle one is that that is the America we wish, proper? That is the America we consider, America at its greatest – any individual who can come to America on their lonesome, no household, from probably the most horrible, horrible circumstances attainable and construct themselves up on this manner. However I really feel like that American dream arc typically additionally glosses over the terribleness of it. And having all the remainder of your loved ones killed within the Holocaust, surviving the Holocaust, being a prisoner in Auschwitz is such a horrible, horrible factor. How, all through his life, did Greenfield take into consideration and speak about that have?

TRAUB: He did, as you say, lose his total rapid household. He had family he had by no means even heard of who had been in America. And someway, they discover him in a displaced individuals camp in Europe. And he comes right here not solely with no rapid household. He has $10 that was despatched to him by a relative. And he mainly would not converse English. And he felt that his arduous work and his drive had actually been rewarded. And I feel that is what he was so grateful to America for was that he – in his personal life, he felt an infinite sense of chance right here.

DETROW: Few issues are extra satisfying to me than studying a very considerate, well-done obituary that totally captures an fascinating particular person’s life. That is what you do more often than not. What do you assume it’s about that individual kind of reports article that may be so highly effective?

TRAUB: Nicely, you already know, loads of information is incremental. And issues appear to repeatedly develop and alter. Obituaries are definitive. They aspire to be a type of summation and a final phrase about somebody’s life, wanting again on the current previous. In order that they’re little biographies partially, however they’re additionally – they’re works of historical past. And I suppose only a remaining factor I might say is that somebody’s dying turns into an event. It turns into an event to write down about issues that in any other case aren’t information. So I might say that obituaries have that high quality of definitiveness, they usually even have this high quality of bringing the previous again to life in ways in which would possibly shock you.

DETROW: I might like to finish with the way you ended this piece. Are you able to inform us in regards to the final scene on this obituary within the story about Martin Greenfield’s life?

TRAUB: So Martin Greenfield is separated from all of his household after they first arrive at Auschwitz, apart from his father. And earlier than lengthy, he and his father are at an enormous assembly. And the guards of the camp ask which of the prisoners have abilities. Martin Greenfield’s father, with out showing to have premeditated it, grabs his son’s hand and raises it and says that he has mechanical abilities. And because of his father doing that, he’s separated from his father. And so one of many final issues his father says to him is, should you survive, you reside for us. And Martin Greenfield, who misplaced his entire rapid household, by no means forgot that. And Martin Greenfield’s son, Todd Greenfield, was telling me this story and mentioned that is what he did. He efficiently realized this commandment from his father to stay for the household that he’d misplaced.

DETROW: Alex Traub is a reporter at The New York Instances, the place he focuses on obituaries, together with a current piece about tailor and Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield. Thanks a lot.

DETROW: Thanks, Scott.

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