One of the last surviving prisoners from the so called ‘Great Escape’ during the Second World War is being remembered as a man of tenacity who would do anything for his country and the people he loved.
Samuel Shapiro would have turned 95 years old next week. He died peacefully in his sleep Monday with his daughter Rhonda Kemeny by his side.
Sam was a Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot whose plane was shot down over Germany. While his plane was going down, he got out and parachuted to the ground in darkness.
His daughter Rhonda Kemeny talked about his capture. “He heard noises. He thought, ok I’m done for, put up his hands and said in Yiddish ‘I surrender’ thinking the noise was the Germans and as they got closer he realized he had surrendered to cows.”
He took refuge in the farmer’s house and woke up to a gun pointed in his face. The farmer turned him over to the Germans who took Sam to Stalag Luft III, a camp popularized by the 1963 film The Great Escape.
“He was one of the people who helped dig, he did not try to escape because many got shot for sure him being Jewish he would’ve been shot.”
Sam told his family he spent 1,366 days of hell in the camp. But as his daughter Darlene recalled, even during the most horrific times of his life Sam Shapiro managed to raise the spirit of his fellow prisoners.
“He got shot down early so I’m sure he wanted to really serve his country but it was when he was in the camps he really provided the mental strength the other soldiers needed.”
He asked the YMCA, who was allowed to bring supplies to prisoners in the camp, to bring the POWs some ice skates. They built an ice rink and played hockey. When Sam was freed by Allied forces he was recognized for his efforts with a medal and recognition from both the YMCA and the Red Cross in 1945.
Rhonda says her father didn’t talk much about his war experience until his children were older, mostly because he was quite traumatized by it all.
“He didn’t see the faces of the people he dropped the bombs on, but he knew he killed people.”
Sam went on to marry his wife Geraldine, who died last year. They leave behind four children, 7 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.