Sid Shafner, who liberated Dachau with the Rainbow Division in WW II, passed away Dec. 26, 2016, in Denver. He was 95. Rabbis Yaakov Chaitovsky and Richard Rheins and Cantor Joel Lichterman officiated at the Jan. 1, 2017 service at BMH-BJ. Interment followed at Mt. Nebo Cemetery. Feldman Mortuary made the arrangements.
“He never asked for recognition, and never sought it out,” the family said. “A devout Jew, he had great respect for people who were strong in their faith, whether they were Christians, Muslims or Hindus.”
Mr. Shafner was born Sept. 14, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pa.
He enlisted in the US Army at 18, right after Pearl Harbor, and was initially in the Signal Corps.
When the Army Specialized Training Corps education program was formed, approximately 20,000 US servicemen were selected to participate. Two thousand were assigned to Regis University, including Sid Shafner.
“My dad asked what kind of college Regis was,” Shafner told the IJN in a lengthy interview published on Jan. 23, 2015. “I told him it was run by Catholic priests.
“My dad couldn’t believe his ears. ‘What, a nice Jewish boy like you is attending a Catholic school?’ I told him it would be fine.”
While he was a student at Regis, Shafner met Esther Dranoff, his future wife.
After a year-and-a-half at the school, the Army ordered Shafner to join the fighting overseas. All the servicemen at Regis were assigned to the 42nd infantry (Rainbow Division) at Camp Gruber in Oklahoma.
Shafner landed in Marseille, France, nine months later, on Dec. 10, 1944.
A member of the reconnaissance unit, Shafner’s platoon consisted of seven jeeps, four men to a jeep — 24 men in total.
They soon entered a “volleyball game” with the Germans on east side of the Rhine River, he told the IJN.
“This means they were throwing artillery at us and we were throwing artillery at them. That’s volleyball.”
The platoon captured Schweinfurt and Würzburg, Germany after Christmas, 1944. Ordered to investigate a nearby village, the men ran into an ambush. Only 12 out of 24 platoon members survived the assault.
After spending the night in a hayloft, the soldiers jumped into the one remaining jeep, proceeded east to Nuremberg, where they were joined by replacements, then headed south to Munich.
“On the way we encountered a 15-year-old Hitler Youth up a tree,” Shafner recalled. “He aimed at the tank behind us, hit the sergeant in the neck and killed him.” The platoon shot the boy.
“We hated to kill a boy his age, you know?” Shafner said. “But he killed one of ours. It was either them or us. That was our motto.”
On April 29, 1945, they stopped at a small village named Dachau. Sid Shafner would never forget what he saw there.
Two teenagers (one of them was Marcel Levy, who became a close friend) in fairly good shape begged Shafner to help prisoners trapped in a train. “They spoke Yiddish, which I understood because my grandparents spoke Yiddish,” he said.
“What did I see at Dachau? I saw a bunch of people in pajamas speaking either Yiddish or Polish. They were dancing for joy, thanking us in broken English, ‘Thank you liberator, thank you liberator.’”
He also saw untold victims of the Nazis’ ghastly mass killing machine. “The sight of the camp . . . was unbelievable.”
The division received orders to capture Munich and then continue on to Salzburg, Austria. On May 8, he learned that the war was over.
Rumors circulated that concentration camp guards had repurposed their uniforms as civilian clothes. Rainbow Division pursued them up a mountain.
“We found a dozen guards and checked their armpits for an SS tattoo,” Shafner said. “Every one of them had the tattoo. We took them into the woods and killed them.”
Once the division arrived in Vienna with the Army of Occupation, Shafner began searching for relatives of Holocaust survivors. He mailed letters inquiring about their families at the Army post office. “I mailed etters to Palestine, England, America, Australia, you name it . . . I still have the copies. But I never heard anything back.”
Shafner earned two Bronze Stars for his bravery in WW II.
In 1946, he returned to the US and married Esther.
Shafner and his brother opened Kiddieland, a children’s furniture store, in Denver.
Later he became a successful realtor, retiring from business at the age of 89.
Shafner spent most of his free time teaching university and high school students throughout Colorado about the Holocaust. He was active with the local Jewish War Veterans post, for which he served as chaplain.
A Broncos’ season ticket holder since the team’s inception, he loved watching the games.
In 2014, Shafner received an honorary bachelor’s degree from Regis University.
He was reunited in Israel with Marcel Levy, whom he saved at Dachau, during a trip arranged by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in May, 2016.
Shafner was inducted into the Jesuit Honor Society Alpha Sigma Nu at Regis on Dec. 7, 2016, a few weeks before his death.
Sid Shafner is survived by his wife Esther Shafner; children Elayne (Harley) Feldman, Mark (Beth) Shafner and Alan (Madeline) Shafner; grandchildren Kelly Weinblatt, Sean Shafner, Shannon Berman, Allie Shafner, Brooke Shafner and Caitlyn Shafner; and great-grandchildren Ryan and Alyssa Weinblatt.
He was predeceased his granddaughter Allison Feldman.
Contributions may be made to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Fund or Regis University.
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