|Holocaust survivor, decorated Army vet to speak at KC Library|
|Written by Beth Lipoff, Contributing Writer|
|Wednesday, June 06 2012 14:38|
Sid Shachnow isn’t your average retiree. The Army major general, who led the Green Berets for 32 years, is also a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania more than 60 years ago.
Shachnow will be at the Kansas City Public Library’s Central branch at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, to talk about his memoir, “Hope and Honor.”
“I never talked about my early life experiences, which is about normal. A lot of people who had a traumatic event in their life don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
After dealing with heart problems and cancer, Shachnow decided to write down his experiences with the encouragement of his family.
“At first I wrote about 100 pages. We were going to take it to Staples or Kinkos to reproduce for the family. (Then) a lady named Jann Robbins, who knew the outline of the story, thought it would make a good book,” Shachnow said.
The book follows his life, from the concentration camp in Kovno, Lithuania, at age 7 to his immigration and assimilation into American society. He was reunited with his mother, father and brother after a journey across post-war Europe on his own at age 10.
“(Assimilating) was a challenge for me. I had never been to school — I couldn’t read, couldn’t write,” he said.
At 21, he met his future wife, Arlene, who was four years younger and Catholic. Later, the story segues to his military career.
Shachnow will be in Kansas City for programming at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The college has been developing programming with the Kansas City Public Library for several years, and this relationship led to Shachnow’s upcoming talk about his book.
“The college foundation called us and thought that Maj. Gen. Shachnow would resonate with a heartland audience,” said Henry Fortunato, director of public affairs for the library. “We treat the library and our speaker series as a people’s university, and our aim is to provide a continuing dialogue and engagement through the forum of authors talking about their books and life experiences. It’s always valuable to hear about ... people who aren’t necessarily well-known.”
Although Shachnow now talks about his book and its stories with some ease, initially writing down the details was sometimes a struggle for him.
“When we spoke in generalities, I had no problem. It’s when we went into specifics I had difficulty,” he said. “I wanted to cancel the project on several occasions.”
He likened the process of recording his memories to picking a scab of a healing wound.
“I think every story that’s in there is something I’m willing to stand by. There were things I revealed — I wondered if it was anybody’s business… You sometimes go in life from day to day, (and) you don’t look on it very philosophically,” he said. “I found myself questioning what kind of person I was when I was in uniform.”
“What training is all about in the military is for you to shed your inhibitions about killing because you grew up most of your life being told that taking someone’s life is wrong. When you put the uniform on, they tell you, ‘There are some exceptions … as a matter of fact we’re going to give you a medal and call you a hero,’ but at some point, I had some serious questions about that.”
To attend Shachnow’s talk, call the library to reserve a seat at 816-701-3407, or go to www.kclibrary.org and select “events.”