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Leon Greenman

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Interview number:


Dr Anthony Grenville

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Leon Greenman (18.12.1910-7.3.2008) was born in Whitechapel, London, as one of six children. After his mother's death he went to live with his father's Dutch parents in Rotterdam. He trained as a boxer and returned to London where he became a barber. He married his wife Esther ("Else") van Dam in 1935. Greenman joined his father-in-law's bookselling business in Rotterdam. His son Barnett, known as Barney, was born on 17 March 1940.

Greenman and his family were arrested in 1942 in spite of the fact that he was a British citizen. Confirmation of his British citizenship arrived too late. The family were taken to Westerbork transit camp in Northern Holland in October 1942. Despite fighting for recognition of their British nationality they were deported to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1943 where the family was separated. Greenman was one of very few Jews in Holland to survive transportation, slave labour and the notorious death march from Auschwitz. His wife and child were murdered in the gas chambers almost immediately after their arrival. Greenman became a slave labourer. Surviving another sorting after 6 weeks, he worked as a barber and sang to the prisoner functionaries (kapos) in the evenings. He later attributed his survival to his physical training and useful skills. He was transferred to Monowitz industrial complex inside Auschwitz (Auschwitz III) in September 1943, where he was subjected to medical experiments. When the camp was evacuated in January 1945, Greenman was sent on a 90-kilometre death march to Gleiwitz concentration camp and then taken in open cattle trucks to Buchenwald concentration camp. Following the liberation of Buchenwald by the U.S. Army on 11 April 1945 he went back to Rotterdam via Paris and moved to London in November 1945.

After the war Leon Greenman worked as a market salesman for 40 years and also performed as a tenor under the stage name of Leon Maure. As a survivor of the Holocaust he dedicated his life to educating the public about it and gave regular talks to school children about his experiences at Auschwitz. He gave many interviews including his first interview for the BBC whilst in hospital in Paris in April 1945. Westerbork Centre Museum developed a temporary exhibition on his experiences in the 1990s. Greenman donated photographs and mementos to the Jewish Museum in Finchley which opened a permanent gallery showing his collection in 1995. An accompanying book 'Leon Greenman - Auschwitz survivor 98288' was published in 1996 (also published under the title 'An Englishman in Auschwitz'). The museum's collection was merged with that of the Jewish Museum in Camden (now the London Jewish Museum). Upon reopening in 2010, Greenman's items are shown in a permanent exhibition in the Holocaust Gallery. He also guided tours around the camp at Auschwitz.


Full Interview


I sat there in a chair. I wasn’t there for half a minute, the door opens & in walks an SS officer. Beautiful uniform. Medals on his chest. He passed by, didn’t look at me, went to a window & then I heard him say ‘Anfangen’. Commence. The doctor tied my arms with leather straps to a chair. I had to spread my legs, they were tied with leather straps to the chair. I couldn’t move. They got a kind of tube with an instrument on there. They put it into my penis, turned it around, took it out & put it back again. I remember they pumped liquid into me. I let it go. The doctor said ‘Don’t let it go, hold it…’ So, they pumped it again & I held it. They were messing about with my body. I thought to myself ‘Ridiculous'. This went on for 10 minutes, maybe longer. I heard one doctor say ‘Das ist ein Engländer’. The SS comes to me, says in English ‘You’re British?’
‘Yes, Sir I’m from London, I shouldn’t be here with my wife & child, can you get us out?’
‘No, take your complaint to the political department. I’m the medical department.’
The doctors continued with me. They went so deep I thought ‘Aaah I can’t walk no more after this’, so I shouted out & he said ‘Lass’ ihn gehen, er braucht nicht wieder zu kommen’. They unstrapped me, took me back to barracks. For the whole week, when I had to pee, blood came.

Not everybody wants to talk about it. But I took an oath to God in Birkenau: if you can get me out I will tell the outside world what happened and I’m still doing it.

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