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Anti-Fascist Role Models: Joe "The Mighty Atom" Greenstein

Circus Strongman, Martial Artist, Nazi Puncher

Nazis have been with us a long time. Though the patches they're wearing these days might be different, and they're often wearing snappy ball caps and sunglasses, they've still got the same flags and the same slogans. They might call themselves something different, but if you scratch beneath the new coat of paint they're the same old fascists they've always been.

While it can seem discouraging, it's important to remember that as long as there have been Nazis, there have also been people who've been punching them. In this first installment of Anti-Fascist Role Models, I'd like to brighten your day by telling you the tale of the tiny titan Joe Greenstein... also known as The Mighty Atom!

Also, if this is the sort of content you'd like to see more of, take a moment to stop by my full Vocal archive where you'll find articles like Can We All Finally Agree That White Supremacy is Bad? as well as Now That The Election is Over, What Do I Want To See Happen To Trump Supporters?

The Early Life of Joseph Greenstein

The birthplace of legends.

As Wikipedia points out, Greenstein was born to a Jewish family in Suwalki, Poland in 1893. A sickly child, he dealt with a slew of respiratory ailments, and doctors pronounced with absolute certainty that he would die of tuberculosis.

Around the time he turned 14, though, Greenstein met a Russian circus strongman named Champion Volanko. This was a meeting that would change his life.

Volanko acted as Greenstein's mentor, and soon the young man was growing into the powerful frame one would expect from someone who followed the routine of a professional strongman. Though Greenstein topped out at 5'4", his height in no way diminished his feats of raw power... in a lot of ways it seemed to make them even more impressive! Two of said feats included unbending an iron horseshoe with his bare hands, and biting clean through a nail! He was featured 5 times on Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and in the 1976 Guinness book of records.

Fleeing a rising tide of anti-Semitism, Greenstein came to America with his wife in the early 1900s. Starting in Texas he made a name for himself as a wrestler, performer of great feats of strength, and all-around badass.

He Also Single-Handedly Beat Up 20 Nazis

First time an atom bomb hit the fascists.

In 1939, according to Cracked, Greenstein was just going about his business in New York City. While he was walking he saw a sign out front of a building which proclaimed No dogs or Jews allowed.

Greenstein wasn't going to put up with that bullshit.

Deciding his course of action, he fetched a ladder, and a bat. He returned to the building, climbed the ladder, and ripped down the sign. Something that the twenty or so Nazis who'd come outside to see what all the commotion was were less than pleased about.

Said Nazis decided they were going to inform Greenstein of their displeasure... and that was a serious miscalculation on their part.

Perhaps they assumed his height meant he was weak, or it was because he was dressed in street clothes rather than his performer's costume, but none of Greenstein's assailants had any idea the storm of fury that was coming their way. A trained martial artist and wrestler, in addition to being one of (if not the) strongest men in the world at the time, Greenstein took the Nazis apart like something out of a Captain America comic book. Legs were splintered, noses smashed, heads busted... it was legendary.

Greenstein was, of course, arrested. When he stood before a judge, the man in the black robe asked if these were all of the individuals involved in the incident. He was, of course, informed that not everyone who'd been part of the brawl was there... at least half the Nazis had been too badly beaten to leave the hospital. When the judge was then further informed that it was the gang of men who had attacked Greenstein simply because he was Jewish, the case was ruled self-defense and dismissed.

Greenstein went on to live a full life where he performed, taught, and fathered 10 children, dying in the 1970s of cancer (perhaps just to spite the doctors who'd given him the TB diagnosis). One of the most important legacies he left behind, however, is a very simple lesson too many of us have forgotten.

"Always punch Nazis."

Neal Litherland
Neal Litherland
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Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

See all posts by Neal Litherland

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