The following article is by Martin Greenfield, author of the new memoir Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor (Regnery).
Experiencing and expressing gratitude should never feel clichéd.
I’m thankful that seventy years ago at Auschwitz, despite my mother, grandparents, two sisters, and 5-year-old baby brother being sent to Hitler’s ovens, I was spared.
I’m thankful for the nameless older Jewish inmate inside the Nazi laundry who taught me how to sew, a skill I’ve used now for decades as a master tailor to Hollywood stars and U.S. presidents.
I’m thankful for the last conversation I had with my father inside the concentration camp before we were separated and he was later murdered. “You are young and strong, and I know you will survive,” he told me in a quiet moment our first night at Auschwitz. “If you survive by yourself, you must honor us by living, by not feeling sorry for us. That is what you must do.”
I’m grateful for those words. They echo in my heart even still. It was a gift only a father’s wisdom could give. It gave me a reason to go forward, a reason to be. It does still. And I’m grateful.
I’m thankful that in the winter of 1945, the stupid-looking wooden clogs the Nazis made me wear did not give out in the unrelenting snows we encountered over many miles during the Death March from Buna to Gleiwitz. Even as the German soldiers turned our column into a moving shooting gallery, for some unknown reason, God kept their guns off me, sparing me the fate of the scores of frozen frames that lay littered across the land, embalmed in glacial graves.
I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the hundreds of thousands of American boys led by Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower–whom I later made suits for–and their willingness to fight and die to destroy Hitler’s death machine.
I’m thankful that when I arrived in America, penniless and unable to speak and read English, I encountered a kind and patient American English teacher who taught night classes at Erasmus High School in New York. When she learned of my fascination with baseball, she agreed to attend a Brooklyn Dodgers game. Ebbets Field proved to be the ultimate American classroom. There, she turned the baseball diamond into a chalkboard. She made me pronounce every position and read every billboard.
Around the eighth inning, I looked out across the lush green field and up into the clear blue sky. I was struck by the improbability of the moment. My life was a miracle. The crack of a baseball bat had replaced the smack and sting of a flogging stick. I had friends. I had newly discovered family members in America. I had a green card. I had a job and a chance. I had Jackie Robinson.
A rush of gratitude overcame me–a feeling that my life had a meaning and purpose that I couldn’t fathom, that by some astonishing act of divine benevolence I’d been one of the fortunate few who were spared the flames.
I was grateful then, I am grateful now.
I’m thankful for my wife, Arlene, who loves and supports me, and did through all those years when my night terrors awoke her from her sleep.
I’m thankful for my two sons, Tod and Jay, who run our “only in America” hand-tailored suit business in Brooklyn.
I’m thankful for grandchildren who will never know how much every hug, every fleeting smile means to a man who became an orphan when he was 15.
I’m grateful that for some grace-filled reason, against all logic and probability, God led Americans to fight for me, to save me, to claim me as one of their own, to nurture me with opportunities, and to help me build a home where I could love and raise my family in my beloved America.
I’m left with nothing but gratitude and joy for my life.
I pray the same for you.
Martin Greenfield is the author of the new memoir, Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor