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
My father and my cousin, Sgt. Sam Klein of the 3rd Cavalry, which
liberated the Ebensee Camp, saw firsthand about the Nazis inhumane
treatment of their captives.
Those who served: Veteran recalls World War II
May 25, 2009
Samuel Klein sits with a painting of himself at his home
in Farmington Hills.
The portrait was made by a survivor of a concentration camp during World
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
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.
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.”