Yosselle Greenstein, The Mighty Atom:

In New York in 1939, members of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund were enraged to see a five-foot four, 140 pound man tearing up the sign on their headquarters which read “No dogs or Jews allowed”. The man, they figured was Jewish, and a group of around 20 Nazis, men who liked a fight, decided to teach the little man a lesson.

The man’s name was Yosselle Greenstein, which he changed to Joseph Greenstein when he came to the US.


Circus strongman Joseph Greenstein

Greenstein had been born in Poland in 1893. He was had been a thin and sickly youth, suffering from asthma and almost dying of turberculosis. As a child, he became interested in strongmen after seeing a poster for a traveling circus. Having no money he snuck into the show but was caught and almost beaten to death before being left in the mud. The circus strongman had found him crawling home and after hearing his story offered to take him under his wing.

For the next few years, Greenstein traveled with the circus, becoming stronger and more fit. He worked as a wrestler, but in 1910, amid rising anti-Semitism, he left for America.

Moving to Texas, he worked in the oil fields, then as a dockworker and part time wrestler. In Galveston, He was shot in the forehead by a man who was reportedly infatuated with his wife. The .32 bullet flattened against Greenstein’s skull and he left the hospital the same day with only minor injuries.

Greenstein made his way to New York and continued his work as a wrestler and strongman. He was known for bending iron bars and horseshoes with his teeth. He changed car tires without tools and once kept an running airplane grounded by tying it to his hair, earning the nickname “The Mighty Atom”.

During World War Two, he performed to raise money for the War, and taught the New York City Police department self defense techniques. His son, a strongman in his own right, served in the Army Air Corps as a mechanic. Joseph Greenstein would live until 1977, still performing acts of strength until the end.

When the group of German-American Bund member appeared in court to level charges against Joseph Greenstein, the judge asked why not all of them were present. The Nazis told the judge not all of them were out of the hospital yet. The Nazis were not eager to press charges against him and admit that one little Jewish man had defeated all of them. Before dismissing the case, the judge asked Greenstein about the fight. Greenstein’s reply was: “It wasn’t a fight your honor, it was a pleasure.”

For more information about Joseph Greenstein read The Mighty Atom: The Life and Times of Joseph L. Greenstein; Biography of a Superhuman
by Ed Spielman


The Mighty Atom, The Life & Times of Joseph L. Greenstein

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Past and Present WWII History Posts