Remembering the face of a liberator
By CHRISTY M. COX
OTTAWA — Encouraged by his beautiful wife of 56 years, he proudly rolled up his sleeve to show me what time cannot erase.
I asked him if I could touch his arm, run my fingertips across the number burned into the skin: 725858. Under the middle “5” a roughly etched triangle identifies him as a Jew.
David Shentow spent his teenage years in Hitler’s concentration camps. He was born in Poland, raised in Belgium and long ago emigrated to Canada, where he met and married Rose.
They are a handsome couple, passionate about each other and life, perhaps in a way one can only be after you’ve lost everything you’ve ever loved, when you’ve faced years waking up in anticipation of your own death.
Something else the Shentows have an almost holy reverence for: the United States of America.
It’s interesting how reality offers meaningful perspective.
While some of our own elected officials, various national media and pundits, as well as the usual Hollywood bright lights, accuse our country, our president and our troops of everything from greed and stupidity to torture and murder, here is a marked survivor of real evil who calls the United States a “great liberator.” I guess when you’ve been to hell and back, you’re not given to hyperbole and hysterics.
On April 29, 1945, David Shentow thought he was dead. He had somehow managed to survive years of abuse and starvation first at Auschwitz and then at Dachau, but now, with nothing left of him, there was no way death would wait as an enraged Nazi beat him mercilessly with a club. He doesn’t know how many hours he lay unconscious.
He was surprised when he did wake and found himself as he says, “still clinging to life.” But the camp was different. Except for the moans of his fellow prisoners, all was quiet. The SS guards were gone, their sentry boxes abandoned.
And then music to his ears: the rumblings of a tank headed toward him. When the tank stopped and the turret was opened, Mr. Shentow looked upon a smile that would hold his imagination and his heart for the rest of his life. It belonged to a young African-American soldier.
“Hi, young fella!” the American GI said, “How are you doing?” He then threw the bewildered captive the only thing he had on hand at the moment — a stick of gum.
“This was the moment of my liberation!” Mr. Shentow tells me. “The day of my birthday. I had just turned 20 years old.”
The Nazis murdered Mr. Shentow’s parents and his two sisters, along with his youth. But “an American soldier gave me back my life,” he says.
Yes, the American soldier.
The same who now stands on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The one who fights for the same cause of freedom as those American patriots who went before, who volunteers to protect us from an enemy bent on nothing less than our obliteration.
Mr. Shentow’s arm: 725858. That crooked triangle. For me, forevermore, it is now, also, the symbol of the policy of appeasement.
The world hoped for the best in 1938 and looked away while Hitler marched on.
Today, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a “myth,” wants Israel wiped off the map and says that “anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nations’ fury.”
I’ll take him at his word. We’ve been down this road before. Only now our expectations are different.
We expect instant satisfaction, demand immediate victories. CNN and The New York Times stand ready to dub any U.S. military operation a “quagmire” within the space of days.
There are no instant fixes for what we face in Iran, Syria, Iraq, North Korea.
We all want — indeed pray for — diplomatic solutions. But “solutions” must not include appeasing evil, “feeding a crocodile, hoping it will eat you last,” as Winston Churchill put it. It must not include abandoning the battlefield when the war has not yet been won. It must not demand instant victories; only a steadfast commitment to success.
It’s lonely at the top. But the bottom line is that the United States has the resources and moral fortitude to fight — and defeat — the forces now conspiring against the Western world.
Certainly much of the world resents this fact, and the more tragic fact is some Americans who think peace should come at any cost now view our country as the aggressor — a country they work to bring to its knees.
I wish they could see Mr. Shentow’s arm.
Ms. Cox served as director of communications for the S.C. House from 1998 to 2005 and as chief of staff for Speaker David Wilkins. She currently serves at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. The views expressed here do not represent official U.S. policy.