Sidney Shachnow survived the Holocaust and became a highly decorated combat veteran and top officer in the U.S. Army Special Forces. He retired from the Army as a major general in 1994 after 32 years of service. Last month, on Sept. 27, Shachnow died at his home in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He was 83.
In 1941 the Nazis invaded Lithuania, displaced the occupying Soviets, and forced the country’s Jews into ghettos where most were later killed or sent to the camps. Lithuania’s second largest city is now known as Kaunas but it was still called Kovno in the war years and was home to a large Jewish community that dated to the early 15th century. Sidney Shachnow was 7 years old in 1941, when the Nazis arrived and forced him and his family, along with tens of thousands of other Jews, into the Kovno ghetto.
The Shachnow family was soon broken up. From a New York Times article written in 1992: “Sidney’s father escaped, fighting with partisans against the Nazis; his mother was sent to a concentration camp.” The boy, Sidney, spent three years in a work camp dodging death and doing hard labor. Shachnow would later write of escaping the camp only days before “The Children’s Action” of March 1944, when some 1,300 young people and elderly were marched to their death in mass executions at The Ninth Fort or in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
The Shachnows survived, found each other after the war, and emigrated to America where they settled in Salem, Massachusetts. After dropping out of high school and alienating his parents by marrying his Catholic girlfriend, Sidney enlisted in the Army as a private. He worked his way up, climbing through the noncommissioned officer ranks before entering officer candidate school in 1960 as a sergeant first class.
He was commissioned first as an Infantry officer before volunteering for the Army’s Special Forces. He went on to do two tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret, earning multiple awards for combat valor.
After the war, Shachnow climbed the ranks in the elite Special Forces community. In one of his final assignments before retiring from the Army, Shachnow served in Germany during the Cold War as the commander of American forces in West Berlin.
He was back in “the very capital of fascism and the Third Reich,” as he put it to The Fayetteville Observer in 1994.”Here we are 40-some-odd years later, and I come back to be commander of American forces in that city and a Jew on top of that. It sort of adds insult to injury, doesn’t it?”