Martin Greenfield was a teenage prisoner at the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp, slowly starving to death, when he was forced to perform labor at the mayor’s bombed out house in nearby Weimar.
Martin spotted a broken rabbit cage with some rotten lettuce inside. For him, such “food” would be an upgrade. As he reached for the wilted leaves, a female voice shouted, “Why in the hell are you stealing my rabbits’ food?!”
It was the mayor’s wife, standing nearby holding a baby. She called the Nazi guards over, and Martin was beaten badly.
Until that moment he had thought only of surviving the surreal horror which had already robbed him of his family and all that he knew – including his own mother and baby brother.
Now a new desire would drive him forward: he vowed to return and kill the woman who had treated him so cruelly.
He got his chance.
Liberated by the U.S. Army on April 11, 1945, Martin and two buddies immediately grabbed machine guns from the pile of confiscated arms outside the camp, and made their way to the mayor’s house. They found the woman, again holding her baby.
“Remember me?!” I yelled. “Do you?!”
Her blond 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.
Martin went on to become one of the most successful tailors in the world, dressing movie stars and multiple American presidents.
For maintaining the light of his learning even in the place of darkest evil, we’re proud to honor Martin Greenfield as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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