Man who helped free Dachau dies

Sid­ney Shafner kept in life­long con­tact with a prisoner he had met.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Max Siegel­baum

The fi­nal time Sid­ney Shafner saw the teenager he first en­coun­tered near the Dachau con­cen­tra­tion camp, they were both in their 90s.

“For me, you look won­der­ful,” Mar­cel Levy said as the two em­braced dur­ing an emo­tional re­union in Is­rael in May.

Shafner and his daughter, Elayne Feld­man, spent sev­eral days with Levy as the men re­counted the war and their lives since it ended.

“It was a beau­ti­ful trip. … A high­light, prob­a­bly of his life,” she said. “The lib­er­a­tor and the lib­er­ated.”

Shafner died Mon­day at age 95.

More than 70 years ear­lier, Shafner was rid­ing in an Army Jeep on the out­skirts of Mu­nich.

Mem­bers of his unit, the Rain­bow Di­vi­sion, en­tered the town of Dachau and un­loaded their ri­fles on the town’s church steeple, as they did in other Ger­man vil­lages to root out snipers.

“At that point all dick­ens broke loose. Strange-look­ing peo­ple in strange-look­ing clothes came from nowhere,” he said in a Li­brary of Congress in­ter­view decades later.

One of the kids ap­proached Shafner.

“Come quick, there’s a con­cen­tra­tion camp up the road, and they’re killing peo­ple up there,” he said. The boy’s name was Mar­cel Levy, and he was wear­ing striped prison cloth­ing.

“If you peo­ple are from a cir­cus or a carnival, we don’t have time to fool with you, we’re Amer­i­can sol­diers,” Shafner replied.

But he waited and lis­tened to Levy and called in re­in­force­ments. Soon, more Amer­i­can troops and ve­hi­cles amassed near the con­cen­tra­tion camp.

“We busted into the camp and freed them,” Shafner said in the Li­brary of Congress in­ter­view.

After Shafner en­listed with the Army, he was sent to Den­ver to study en­gi­neer­ing at Regis Univer­sity. He met his fu­ture wife, Esther, out­side a syn­a­gogue.

As the war wors­ened, the Army dis­banded the pro­gram and sent the young men at Regis to the in­fantry di­vi­sion. Shafner was as­signed to an in­tel­li­gence and re­con­nais­sance unit with the 222nd In­fantry Reg­i­ment, 42nd In­fantry “Rain­bow” Di­vi­sion.

“He didn’t re­ally talk about the graphic de­tails of death be­cause he knew how dev­as­tat­ing it was to fam­i­lies and peo­ple,” said Alan Shafner, his son. “Those kinds of peo­ple, who re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced it, never ad­vo­cate for war.”

Sid­ney Shafner brought Levy with his unit after the camp was dis­banded and later con­nected him to an or­ga­ni­za­tion in Vi­enna that linked dis­placed peo­ple to their fam­i­lies abroad. Levy went to live with fam­ily in Is­rael, and be­fore they parted, Shafner gave him his home address.

The two kept in touch un­til this year.

The war ended 60 years ago, Shafner said in a 2005 in­ter­view, “but I still say to my­self, ‘Did that re­ally hap­pen? Was I re­ally there?’ ”

After the war, Shafner re­turned to Den­ver and opened a toy store with his brother, Sol, which they op­er­ated for years be­fore Shafner switched to real es­tate, as both a bro­ker and a land­lord.

“A lot of his ten­ants will come to his funeral. They broke out cry­ing when they heard,” Alan Shafner said. Some of them lived in homes he man­aged for over 20 years and he never raised their rents, so they could af­ford a place to live. “This is the an­tithe­sis of a land­lord.”

Sid­ney Shafner is sur­vived by his wife, Esther; chil­dren Elayne Feld­man, Mark Shafner and Alan Shafner; and grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren.

The fam­ily will hold a ser­vice for Shafner at 11 a.m. Sun­day at the BMH-BJ Con­gre­ga­tion, 560 S. Monaco Park­way in Den­ver.

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