Hope and Honor (Hardcover)
by Sidney Shachnow, Jann Robbins "I was standing at the bottom of the
stairway jumping rope when my father came rushing into the house about
eight o'clock in the morning..."
A Remarkable Life! , September 28, 2004
Reviewer: Jm Smith (Tacoma, WA USA) - See all my reviews
This is the gripping memoir of a child Holocaust survivor who
immigrates to the US, enlists in the Army and works his way up to
Major General in the US Special Forces.
The story begins with the horrors of the Lithuanian Holocaust death
camp (Kovno) described through the eyes of a young, naive boy.
Shachnow tries to make sense of his small world as his life quickly
spirals downward. I found the brazen anti-Semitism displayed by
Lithuanians alarming and disturbing. Shachnow watches helplessly as
his mother is violently raped and family members are robbed, tortured,
humiliated and brutally slaughtered, one by one.
To make himself less vulnerable to extermination, Shachnow performs
excruciating work on a labor detail where a malicious guard bludgeons
him unconscious with the back of a shovel. Rail thin and slowly
starving to death, his hair and toenails begin to fall off from
malnutrition but he narrowly escapes the death camp on the eve of it's
liquidation. The Holocaust portion is without a doubt the most
harrowing part of the book.
After immigrating to the United States, Shachnow must adapt to his new
life in suburban middle-America. The Americanization of this young,
unassuming refugee from post war Europe is at times poignantly
heartbreaking and at other times laugh-out-loud hysterical. Still
unable to speak English, he attends school for the first time in his
life, tries Coca-Cola (tastes like medicine!), loves rock-and-roll,
learns to play football, and does his best to fit in.
This book shines light on how important it is for immigrants to
integrate in order to succeed. In one particularly heartrending
episode young Shachnow discovers the disturbing truth that his father
is a sad failure at assimilating into life in America. He surprises
his unsuspecting dad by showing up at his "engineering office" only to
awkwardly stumble upon him in the restroom, bent over, scrubbing dirty
toilets in a janitor's uniform. Shachnow keeps his father's shameful
job a secret from his family, but must work long hours after school to
help them keep their heads above destitution and poverty.
The journey continues as Shachnow enlists in the US Army to escape his
controlling and demanding family. He labors his way from Private to
Sergeant, getting into fist fights and rowdy bar room brawls along the
way. He gets his act together, attends Officer Candidate School and is
sent to Viet Nam along the Mekong River with his Special Forces unit
where he eludes death by a hair's breadth more than a few times,
winning two purple hearts and a silver star in the process. Amazing.
The story rounds out as Shachnow is inducted into Berlin's
"Detachment-A" -- a cold war, covert unit secretly imbedded into
Special Forces. The true identity of this clandestine unit was
concealed, it's existence denied, and it's missions classified. In
order to blend in, Det-A personnel dressed in civilian clothing made
in East Germany, grew their hair longer and learned to walk, talk and
think like Easterners. They carried Eastern European documentation &
identification and were on high alert 24 hours a day, every day. I
would have loved to read more detail about these cloak-and-dagger
operations but perhaps some of it is still restricted information.
During the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war,
Shachnow is assigned the position of Berlin Brigade Commander. The
story culminates with a great twist of irony as Shachnow's assigned
military home is the same house that Nazi General Fritz Reinhardt
owned and lived in during WWII. A residence where Hitler and his
cronies attended parties and dinners. (Fritz Reinhardt was Hitler's
An ordinary man caught in many extraordinary circumstances, Shachnow's
story is told with straight forward warts-and-all honesty and a self
deprecating sense of humor. All in all, a truly engaging and
From Publishers Weekly
Part Holocaust memoir and part U.S. Army career narrative, this tale
of an extraordinary life begins with young Schaja Shachnowski, a
Lithuanian Jew, watching the Nazis march into his town. Taken with his
family to a concentration camp, they survived by bribery, quick wits,
the help of the Jewish camp police and the occasional assistance of
local Lithuanians. Schaja was impressed by American GIs and remembered
them after he and his family were eventually admitted to the U.S.:
wanting to marry a Christian girl whom his family loathed and also
unable to find a decent job, he enlisted in the army in 1955. This
began a 40-year career, covered in the book's second half, that ended
with him a much decorated major general, having spent most of his
career in Special Forces, eventually becoming its commanding general.
He served two tours in Vietnam, commanded the Berlin Brigade and
fought for an enlarged role for Special Forces. He is also still
married to his boyhood love, a remarkably enduring person in her own
right. Schachnow's life certainly demonstrates the title qualities, as
well as high professional integrity and a ferocious will to survive.
His telling of it is not always graceful, but his story comes through
clearly and with conviction.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier
Inc. All rights reserved.
General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jun 22 2004
"A gripping story of a warrior's survival and ultimate victory against
A touching, inspiring, thought-provoking book - a "must read", October
Reviewer: TamarDC "tamardc" (Newton, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This is the best book I've read recently and I heartily recommend it.
The first and most harrowing part of the book deals with General
Shachnow's childhood and miraculous survival of the Holocaust. The
protagonist of the story is primarily Shachnow's mother -- an
extraordinary, quick witted and determined woman. It is mainly due to
her efforts and incredible daring that both her children (one of whom
was a mere toddler) survived, while pretty much everyone around them
perished. Her strength through the war and the heartbreaks and
challenges of the family's post war experiences were to me the most
touching and heartrending aspect of the book. Shachnow does a fine job
at crediting his mother's extraordinary sacrifices and bravery, but
also touchingly describing her weaknesses and eventual failures.
The second part of the book, which in some ways is just as touching,
deals with the Shachnow family's move first to post-war Germany and
then to the US. The immigration experience was particularly rough on
General Shachnow, who arrived in the US as an unschooled and
traumatized teenager, but managed, through toil and faith to complete
high school successfully. Shachnow's parents fared less well. They
seemed unable to transition to the new culture and its demands.
Shachnow speculates that his mother had used up all her strength and
ingenuity to survive and therefore found herself unable to cope with
the new world. Shachnow tells us how the graceful heroine of the Kovno
Ghetto turns into a nagging, selfish and small-minded woman, whose
behavior inhibits her and her husband from succeeding in their new
life. In one of the saddest parts of the book, Shachnow describes his
break from his family following his marriage to a non-Jewish girl --
an event that his family treated with neither wisdom nor grace.
The final part of the book is devoted to General Shachnow's military
career, starting with his enlistment as a private at the end of his
high school studies. His rise to the rank of general is described with
humility and is of much interest, though, like other reviewers, I wish
it was more extensive.
This is an extraordinary book. In part it made me cry (the touching
love between the brothers and the terrible heartbreak of Sidney's
parents experiences in the US) and in part it made me wonder. But most
of all -- the book inspired me. This is the story of the incredible
power of love to save lives, to give meaning to existence. It's the
story of familial ties and their challenges. This is the story of the
ultimate inevitability of success to those who are sufficiently
persistent. And finally -- it's the story of true patriotism and
leadership. It's a must read.
I heard the book on CD (Blackstone Audio), read by the excellent Brian