The view of the electrified fences at the entrance at the Dachau Concentration Camp, was a sight that most inmates only saw once. The 3rd Infantry Division as well as other U.S. Army divisions, liberated many of the infamous camps, including Dachau and Mauthausen. My father spoke Yiddish, and conversed with the survivors as they told him their tales of horror.
Click on the small photos for a larger view.
Dachau, Mauthausen, Struthof
Bill Heller's forte as a portrait photographer, was his expertise in
comforting children while taking their photos. Knowing this, I asked him how
he could stand being at the camps when the GI's freed the pitiable survivors
that included so many children. He told me the shock of seeing these people
paralyzed his nervous system, and it was after leaving the camps that the
full effect hit him.
When the inmates of the camps died, the starved and tortured prisoners were thrown into railcars for burial later. In their haste to flee the camps, the Nazis left the prisoners to fend for themselves.
After the liberation of the camps, those victims who could walk, hurried
to the incoming soldiers begging for food and water. Some of the
prisoners were angry at only receiving candy bars, as they wanted real
food. It was only after the camps were secured that the Army brought in
Those who served: Veteran recalls World War II
World War II veteran Samuel Klein will spend this Memorial Day with his
daughter, Kay-Ellen Murphy, and her family in Bloomfield Hills. But
during the day his memory will take him back 65 years when he was a
19-year-old on his way to fight in the war in Europe.
On that journey the Farmington Hills man fought his way across France and Austria, was wounded and even was present during the liberation of a concentration camp.
Samuel Klein was born in 1924 in Detroit. His father ran a print shop. A fraternal twin, he had his twin sister Rose and another sister for companions. Klein was drafted into the Army in 1943. “I cheated to get in,” he said. Because he had poor eyesight, he memorized the eye chart and arched his flat feet when he was checked by doctors. “I didn’t want to be 4-F,” said Klein, using the Selective Service designation for “unfit for military service.”
The Army sent him to Georgia for a year of basic training. There he opted to learn radio communication. “I had a musical background playing violin in high school,” Klein said. “I figured I could learn code more easily.” On July 4, 1944, he shipped to England and then landed in France about a month later. “It was frightening,” he said.
One vivid memory is the day when his division was going down a road and an officer told him to retrieve a .50-caliber machine gun from a tank on the side of the road. “I lifted the hatch and the top of a head came out with it,” he said solemnly. “I closed it and didn’t get the gun.” Another soldier went in and grabbed the gun, he said. Once in France he was assigned to the Third Cavalry, which was under the famous Gen. George Patton.
Klein found himself doing reconnaissance behind the lines. “We weren’t supposed to fight,” he said. “We were gathering information and sending it back (to the commanders).” He was part of Patton’s historic Ghost Army, a phantom unit assembled to divert attention from the real Allied army gathering to invade France during spring of 1944. Klein watched men died in combat. He himself was wounded in the thigh in September, 1944. He recuperated in Paris and London.
In spring if 1945, his corps had made it to Austria where he remembers seeing “things” walking around. “They were emaciated men,” he said. “We stopped and asked the local people there about them and they said, ‘There’s a (concentration) camp here.”
The camp was Ebensee, in the middle of Austria. A reported 20,000 people
died there. Klein, who is Jewish, saw the camp on the second or third
day after hearing of it. "It was horrible,” he said. “Dead bodies were
stacked up. They had one crematorium there. The smell (of death)
permeated everything.” The camp, a subcamp of Mauthausen (where an
estimated 150,000 died), had no women, just men and boys. The American
troops were shocked, said Klein. “People were eating coal to get
nutrients from it, that’s how desperate they were,” he said. “The camp
was built for 700 and there were 12,000 there when we arrived. We made
the local people bury the dead.” Klein remembered one camp survivor who
asked an American for a cigarette. “He took two puffs and passed out,”
One of the camp survivors painted Klein’s portrait and Klein has the painting at his home. He doesn’t know the artist’s name.
“When I look at it, I think how fortunate I was,” he said.
Klein, a communication sergeant, was shipped back to the U.S. in July, 1945. He married Harriet Heller in 1947 and the couple had two daughters, Rosemary Lee of Bear Lake and Kay-Ellen, and three grandchildren. Klein went to college and worked as a CPA until retiring in 1980. Harriet died seven years ago. Klein has attended reunions of the Third Cavalry Group for more than 60 years. He is looking forward to a reunion in October at the Detroit Metro Airport Marriott. Camp survivors attend, Klein said.
He remembers one reunion where a survivor, a cantor from Toronto, stood and sang the U.S. National Anthem. “A visiting general walked up and took a medal off his chest and gave it to the cantor,” said Klein. “It was very emotional.”
Garth Wootten, Oakland County veterans benefit counselor and supervisor, said there is a good chance most men in their 80s probably served in World War II. “Pretty much everybody was mobilized,” he said. “The whole country was involved in that effort.”
The war for veterans was probably “one of the most dramatic experiences they ever had in their lifetimes. Many faced danger, death and dismemberment on a daily basis.”
Most, said Wootten, are extremely proud.
“They had a clear enemy and a clear goal and they accomplished that.”
Klein said he is proud of his service.
He said, “On Memorial Day, I feel united with all who served.”
© Copyright 2009 The Oakland Press,
|Until the Allies saw the camps, the camps were treated as rumors. The US government never told the GI's even though they had intelligence from escapees and others, of the terror going on in the camps. But, for whatever reason, they did not announce this information to the people back home or the GI's until the facts became generally known .|
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