It’s a small camera -- nothing particularly special. Seven decades ago, though, the photos it took would forever capture the horror of genocide.
“The only thing I could think of is man’s inhumanity to man,” said Sid Shafner, a 94-year-old World War II Army veteran, who lives in the Denver metro area.
Back in 1945, Sid was one of the first soldiers to reach the town of Dachau in southern Germany.
“We were prepared for a fight, but nothing like this,” he recalled.
Two teenagers had anxiously waved down Sid and other soldiers in his Jeep and directed them to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Sid could not believe what he saw.
“They were skinny, gaunt,” he said. “They could hardly stay up on their feet.”
As the soldiers helped the survivors, Sid took it upon himself to document what he saw. Some of the photos are too graphic to show on television – but they bring to life a place which saw so much death.
“I then knew what was going on,” he said. “It started to make sense.”
Now, Sid is returning to Europe for what is likely his last time. On Thursday, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces will help honor him as a special guest at the official Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony at the former Auschwitz concentration camp.
“They’ve invited those people who rescued prisoners from concentration camps to meet with the people they rescued,” said Alan Shafner, Sid’s Son
One of those who Sid rescued is 90-year-old Marcel Levy, one of the two teenagers who directed Sid and the soldiers to the concentration camp. Sid helped him after the liberation and they've remained friends ever since.
“He’s so indebted to my dad,” Alan Shafner said. “I don’t know if my dad is solely responsible for his existence, but the Levy family certainly feels that way.”
As for Sid, he said it is important for him to keep talking about what he saw.
“I think of that all the time,” he said. “I’ll never forget Dachau.”
He hopes others don’t, either.
Shafner still goes to metro area schools to speak about his experiences during World War II. He attended Regis University, but wasn’t able to finish his degree because he was sent to war. He received an honorary degree from Regis two years ago.