A master tailor’s journey from Auschwitz to the White House

Clothes make the man, Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet. They certainly made master tailor Martin Greenfield, who survived the Holocaust to measure presidents in the White House for his signature handmade suits.

Man crossing his tattooed arm over his suit vest and tie (© Getty Images/Joseph Victor Stefanchik)
The number “A4406” was tattooed on Martin Greenfield’s arm on his first day at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The cuff links were a gift from General Colin Powell. (© Getty Images/Joseph Victor Stefanchik)

At 88 he still works six days a week in his clothing factory in Brooklyn, New York, when not making inspirational speeches or engaged in community activities.

Greenfield, born in Pavlova, a mountain village in then-Czechoslovakia, lost his family in Nazi Germany’s extermination of Jews.

His father, an engineer, told him at Auschwitz, “We must separate. You are young and strong. On your own you will survive. You must honor us by living.”

And the resourceful teen did, taught at the camp to tailor by older, doomed Jews. Relatives brought him to America in 1947. He started as a floor boy at the factory he now owns.

In almost no time he was its top tailor, entrusted with making suits for Dwight Eisenhower before and after his 1952 election to the White House. Greenfield even left notes with foreign policy advice for Eisenhower in suit pockets.

When President Bill Clinton summoned him for a fitting, Clinton told him, “No notes. Here’s my fax number.” President Obama is a customer, as were celebrities Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra and Leonardo DiCaprio and basketball stars Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal (extra tall suits for them). Former general and secretary of state Colin Powell is a favorite.

Every hand-sewn suit is the product of many hands. He employs 120 immigrants. “We have the best people from all over the world,” said Greenfield. “I’d be nothing without them.”

“There’s no place like America,” Greenfield said. His sons Jay and Tod now run the business.

In 2015 he donned academic robes and received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University in New York City. University President Richard Joel quoted Greenfield’s autobiography, Measure of a Man: “Every person is a perfect person. I have to make a suit that helps them to believe they can achieve their dreams.”

Greenfield noted with pride, “I dress both sides of the aisle.” He’s made several suits in the past for President-elect Donald Trump (size 44) in his days as a New York developer. Now he’ll wait to see if a call comes from the next occupant of the White House.

“It’s a big honor to dress presidents,” Greenfield said. “I make everybody look good in clothes.”