Born in 1934 as Schaja Shachnowski in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (known to Jews as Kovno), Sidney Shachnow died in North Carolina on September 27. In 1941, the Nazis had herded Shachnow and his family, along with the other local Jews, into a ghetto, where most either died of starvation and disease or were murdered. Against all odds, nine-year-old Schaja managed to escape, as Richard Sandomir relates:
Leaving behind his weeping parents one morning before dawn, . . . Schaja hid under his Uncle Willie’s long coat as the uncle, with Schaja moving in rhythm with him, walked through the gates, passing guards and a work detail that was often sent outside the ghetto. Shortly afterward, children at the camp were liquidated. When he and his uncle reached the streets beyond the gates of the ghetto, . . . his uncle gave him a prearranged signal to emerge from under the coat and find his contact, a woman wearing a red kerchief. . . .
[Later on] he was taken in by a Roman Catholic family and lived with them for several months. He was then reunited with his mother, who had escaped from the ghetto, and his younger brother, Mula, who had been smuggled to safety disguised as a girl.
After the Red Army retook Lithuania, Schaja and his family, wishing to avoid Soviet tyranny, fled to the Allied zone in Germany, where they reunited with Schaja’s father and then left for the U.S. Shachnow went on to join the Green Berets, was decorated twice in Vietnam, commanded an elite clandestine unit in Berlin, and eventually attained the rank of major general. He was serving as the Army’s commanding officer in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell:
As a German-speaking combat veteran, General Shachnow was well suited to serve in Berlin. But as a Holocaust survivor, he was confronted with what he felt was a delicious irony: his headquarters had been those of the powerful Nazi official Hermann Göring, and his residence had once belonged to Fritz Reinhardt, a finance minister under Hitler. . . .
After leaving Berlin, he was appointed commander of the Special Forces and commanding general of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, NC. . . . He retired from the Army in 1994.