Man who helped free Dachau dies
Sidney Shafner kept in lifelong contact with a prisoner he had met.
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.