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Henry W. Bernstein, World War II veteran and Maryland National Guard officer, dies

Henry W. Bernstein was present at the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Henry W. Bernstein was present at the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Henry W. Bernstein, a World War II veteran and career Maryland National Guard officer, died April 22 of respiratory failure at a daughter’s Owings Mills home. He was 96.

The son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Henry William Bernstein was born in Baltimore and raised on Bentalou Street. His father, Jacob Bernstein, was a tailor, and his mother, Sarah Bernstein, was a homemaker.

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Mr. Bernstein was 17 and attending City College when he dropped out to enlist in the Army in 1943. He had been rejected when he tried to enlist after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 because he was still recovering from an operation for an ear abscess, family members said.

After completing basic training at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, he was assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky and in 1944 joined the 56th Armored Engineer Battalion, part of the 11th Armored Division, better known as the “Thunderbolt Division.”

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While he was crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a convoy, it was attacked by German U-boats, and several escort ships were sunk. After landing at Le Havre, France, his platoon cleared minefields and built roads and bridges in support of armored units moving across France, Belgium, Germany and Austria.

He told family members that despite heavy enemy fire, he felt “pretty safe with them,” because his unit had a number of seasoned combat veterans.

Two days before World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, the 11th Armored Division liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp in Upper Austria. Mr. Bernstein’s unit was briefly in the camp, where it left medical personnel behind to treat the mainly Russian and Polish citizens who had been confined there.

“He remembers a prisoner asking for help contacting a daughter in Brooklyn, New York, and emaciated prisoners getting sick from eating food too quickly,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.

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Mr. Bernstein was in Linz, Austria, when word arrived that the Germans had surrendered in Reims, France. For the next year, he served in the occupation forces in Germany, and despite having no musical training was assigned to the 4th Armored Division as its band administrator.

While in Germany, he was able to attend a session of the war crime trials in Nuremberg, family members said.

Mr. Bernstein returned to Baltimore in 1946 and remained in the Army Reserve until transferring to the Maryland National Guard. During his 30-year career with the guard, he served in the 1st Missile Battalion, 70th Artillery, at its missile site in Granite, Baltimore County, whose function was to protect Baltimore and Washington from nuclear attack.

He was later assigned to the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, where he attained the rank of chief warrant officer. He retired in 1982.

Mr. Bernstein, a former longtime Milford Mill resident who moved to Owings Mills 12 years ago, enjoyed reading and doing crossword puzzles. He was an opera and classical music fan.

He was a member of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation.

His wife of 52 years, the former Irene Saffron, died in 2008.

Graveside services were held April 23 at the United Hebrew Cemetery in Halethorpe.

He is survived by a son, Jay N. Bernstein of Pikesville; two daughters, Susan Biller of Owings Mills and Rona Cross of Reisterstown; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. An infant son, Steven Bernstein, died in 1958.

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