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Leadership And Overcoming Adversity: The US Army Major General Sid Shachnow Story

This groundbreaking leadership research by has received extensive endorsements and enthusiastic reviews from well-known prominent business, political, and academic leaders who either participated in the study or reviewed the research findings. You will discover the proven success habits and secrets of people who, in spite of difficult or life threatening challenges shaped their own destiny to become successful, effective leaders. The full results of this research will be presented in the upcoming book by Dr. Howard Edward Haller titled “Leadership: View from the Shoulders of Giants.”

The nine initial prominent successful leaders who overcame adversity that were interviewed included: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Monzer Hourani, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Dr. John Malone, Larry Pino, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and Zig Ziglar.

The data from the above nine research participants was materially augmented by seven other successful leaders who overcame adversity including: Jack Canfield, William Draper III, Mark Victor Hansen, J. Terrence Lanni, Angelo Mozilo, Dr. Nido Qubein, and Dr. John Sperling.

Additionally, five internationally known and respected leadership scholars offered their reviews of the leadership research findings including: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, Dr. John Kotter, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.

This is a short biography of one of the principal participants who generously contributed their time and insight for this important research into the phenomenon of how prominent successful leaders overcome adversity and obstacles. This General Sid Shachnow’s story:

General Sid Shachnow survived the Nazi Holocaust. He served two intense tours as a Green Beret officer in Vietnam, as well as serving several tours of duty in Germany. Sid Shachnow was born Schaja Shachnowski in Kausas, Lithuania in the mid-1930s. He was the elder of two sons born to a middle-class Jewish couple.

His life was materially altered by the events of World War II in Europe and the Nazi Holocaust. One of the first things the invading Nazis did to Sid’s family was to kill Sid’s Aunt Tili and Uncle Abraham. They were “burned alive in their home.” Because Schaja and his family were Jewish, the Nazis interned them in the concentration camp at Kovno in Lithuania when Schaja was only 7 years old. His younger brother was smuggled out of the camp shortly before Schaja escaped.

Schaja (now Sid)explained, “I escaped at age ten, with nothing but rags on my back; I was able finally to flee that hellhole. Most of those I left behind died.” He had escaped just days before the Nazis came in and killed every child in the Kovno Camp. Historical records indicate that of the 40,000 Jews interred at the Kovno Camp, a mere 2,000 survived (Shachnow, 2004, p. 30). Young ten-year-old Sid, who was all alone after his escape, “hid for many months from both the Nazis and the Lithuanian partisans.” His mother also escaped the Kovno Concentration Camp, just as World War II was ending.

Sid still needed to escape from the Russians, who were in control of his native Lithuania after the war. According to Sid, the Soviet occupation of Lithuania was not much better than the Nazi occupation: “It was unbearable.” He learned from his mother that “the NKVD [later known as the KGB] was as ruthless as the [German] Gestapo.” To escape from Lithuania, Sid, his mother, and his younger brother made an arduous journey, lasting six months, partially on foot, carefully avoiding Russian troops. Sid’s father remained temporarily in Lithuania and rejoined the family later in West Germany.

In war-torn West Germany the Shachnowski family struggled to exist and to make a living. There were few jobs available, but Sid’s mother “did speak German and this helped.” To survive, Sid and his mother were involved with the “black market,” selling contraband items to U.S. troops. Sid said, “I started working in the black market . . . picking up merchandise [on a bike].” His employer, Mr. Schmidt, “said if I got caught it was my problem and not his.” After a few delays, Sid and his family immigrated again to the United States. In America Sid, his parents, and younger brother all lived together, and they found “hope and opportunity.”

Sid indicated that he had always been industrious, and he worked his way through high school, where he meet Arlene, fell in love, and wanted to get married. Because Arlene was not Jewish,

Sid’s “parents became exceedingly upset, yelling and screaming and rending their clothes.” They refused to allow the marriage. Sid dropped out of high school when he was a senior to join the U.S. Army. He came back from Army basic training and married Arlene. She always encouraged him.

My wife said to me, you know, I think you should do something about becoming an officer. It’s easier said than done.

because in those days, I didn’t have a college education, I was a young enlisted man without any real leadership experience, or whatever. But it’s the thing that sort of opened my eyes to, you know, If I want to be more successful in a field that I seem to be enjoying, I need to assume some leadership position. I need to be in charge at night, because that’s where things are happening.

With encouragement from several senior officers, who became mentors, Sid went on to Officer’s Candidate School and earned his commission. As a young U.S. Army officer he volunteered for two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army Special Forces [Green Berets]. In Vietnam, Sid earned two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars with a “V’ for Valor, and other awards. Sid primarily served with the Special Forces, in Vietnam, the Middle East, and at the Berlin Wall. He “served in the U.S. Army for forty years.” He indicated he “spent thirty-two of those years in Special Forces.”

While in the U.S. Army, Sid served multiple tours of duty in Germany, including “ironically helping to protect the Germans from the Russian Communists.” He was the Brigade Commander in Berlin, Germany in charge of U.S. Army units at the Berlin Gate at the end of the “Cold War.” Sid worked closely with the West German military while serving his tours in Germany. He reported that his headquarters had been the headquarters of Hermann Goring, the number-two man in Nazi Germany, “not a shabby place by any standard.”

In response to a question posed by Simon Wiesenthal (Wiesenthal, 1998), about forgiving Nazi soldiers, Shachnow replied, “I served a considerable part of my military career in Germany protecting [the Germans] . . . I was prepared to give up my most precious possession, my life, in that effort” (p. 243). I interviewed Shachnow near Fort Bragg, NC at his home for nearly two hours. His griping and inspiring biography, Hope and Honor (2004), is a great read.

Copyright 2006 © Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

Submitted by:

Dr Howard Haller

Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D. is the Chief Enlightenment Officer of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho based The Leadership Success Institute. His Doctoral dissertation in Leadership Studies at Gonzaga Univ. included interviews with prominent US leaders in business, politics & education. Dr Haller offers one adversity story. http://www.TheLeaderInstitute.com




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