Marginally useful memoir by a Holocaust survivor and American general.
Now retired from military service, debut author Shachnow was ten years old when he and his family were interned in a concentration camp along with other Lithuanian Jews. “I developed an instinct for survival,” he recalls. “If I saw any kind of trouble, I hid. I learned to disappear into an alley, a doorway, or behind a shrub.” After three years of captivity, he escaped, hidden by a Catholic family until the Red Army arrived. Astonishingly, his mother, father, and brother had also survived. Convinced by an uncle to flee before the borders were sealed, the family moved westward toward the American zone, arriving in Germany in the fall of 1945. It took four years for them to secure permission to emigrate to America, where young Sid found work pumping gas and delivering groceries until joining the army in 1955. In the military, he writes, he blossomed, graduating at the top of his class from officer candidates school; apparently moved as much by the needs of his growing family (“hostile fire pay was $55 per month extra”) as by career ambitions, he then volunteered for training in the Special Forces and assignment to Vietnam, where he distinguished himself in combat. After the war, he rose through the officer grades until attaining the rank of major general and commanding the Special Forces. None of these are ordinary events or attainments, but Shachnow writes with little sense of drama or self-reflection. Instead, in good military fashion, he too often reverts to pat phrases: he offers that his experience in the camps instilled a desire to “make sure no threat to freedom would go unchallenged again,” adding, “Communism was a real threat and it had to be stopped” and repeating the tired assertion that politicians, not soldiers, lost the war in Vietnam.
Of some interest, surely, to those who served with Shachnow, but too limited to add to our understanding of the events he describes.