Robert C. Klein

Robert C. Klein, a Towson World War II veteran, died.

Robert C. Klein, a retired insurance executive and World War II veteran who had participated in the liberation of the Landsberg concentration camp, died Feb. 4 at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center of complications from a stroke.

The longtime Towson resident was 94.

Mr. Klein was a 25-year-old staff sergeant serving with the 101st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized) of the 12th Armored Division when his outfit liberated the Landsberg slave labor concentration camp in southwest Bavaria on April 27, 1945.

The camp, which was a part of Dachau and located in Landsberg am Lech, Germany, had been the place where Adolf Hitler was imprisoned in 1924 after the failure of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and where Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf."

After he became German chancellor, Hitler converted the former prison into a concentration camp where not only Jews but also political enemieswere imprisoned.

The experience of what he saw and experienced at Landsberg was so emotionally overwhelming that Mr. Klein did not speak of it for years, and when he did, only haltingly, family members said.

"He has a picture ... of piles of dead Jews with American soldiers on their knees as a priest prays over the dead," said a daughter, Elizabeth "Betsy" Klein of Towson.

"And those that were alive were so emaciated that the soldiers gave them candy bars, which made them sick because they hadn't eaten in so long," said Ms. Klein. "The whole thing was just too horrific for him to talk about."

The son of Charles Klein, an insurance agent, and Maybelle Klein, a homemaker, Robert Charles Klein was born in Far Rockaway, N.Y., where he graduated from Far Rockaway High School.

Inducted into the Army in 1942, he completed training at Fort Riley, Kan. He was then sent to Fort Meade, where he met his future wife, Bernice A. Bernheimer, in 1943 at a USO dance. They married three months later. Mr. Klein was sent to Europe, where he served with the 101st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

What Mr. Klein and his fellow soldiers found when they entered Landsberg that day were 6,200 Jews living in crowded and filthy conditions. News reports published in The Baltimore Sun at the time said that more than 4,000 European Jews had perished in the camp.

"Today I saw scores of charred bodies, hundreds of naked virtual skeletons, lying on the ground with unforgettable grimaces of extreme pain," wrote Louis P. Lochner, an Associated Press war correspondent, in an account of the liberation of the camp that was published in The Sun.

"I ... saw and smelled the filthy hovels where they were herded until the fleeing SS guards set fire to them, burning several hundred Jews alive," wrote Mr. Lochner.

Mr. Klein, who was discharged in 1945, was awarded the Bronze Star.

"We never knew anything about the Bronze Star, including my mother, until years later," said Ms. Klein, who said her father was presented the decoration for heroism.

"Dad and his men got trapped behind enemy lines and they were shot at. Many were hurt and some died," said Ms. Klein. "He carried wounded men to safety on his back and one friend who was dead. He wanted him to have a proper burial."

After the war, Mr. Klein enrolled at New York University where he studied on the GI Bill of Rights and earned a bachelor's degree in 1948.

Mr. Klein and his wife moved to Baltimore when he took a job at Riggs, Counselman, Michaels & Downes Inc., an insurance company, where he was senior vice president at the time of his 1982 retirement.

In 2003, Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University contacted Mr. Klein and requested an interview for his remembrances of the liberation of Landsberg. The collection of more than 4,400 videotaped interviews is in Yale's Sterling Memorial Library.

"Prior to the interview, he shared very little about this with his family," said Jessica Gregg, a granddaughter who lives in Rodgers Forge.

"He agreed to do a taped interview at a local TV station, which was sent to the archive," said Ms. Gregg. "We also received a copy of the tape. This was the first my grandmother or anyone else in the family had heard this story. War stories [were] not something he shared with us," she said.

"It was amazing for our family to watch and begin to understand what he had seen during the war. After that experience, he began to share more freely with us his experiences," said Ms. Gregg. "We've always been grateful for the phone call and participation in the project."

"The irony is that it was affiliated with Yale," his daughter said. "Dad had always wanted to go to Yale but after the war went to NYU instead."

Mr. Klein was an avid trout fisherman and traveled through the United States, Canada and Europe in pursuit of quiet streams where he could pursue his hobby. He also was a baseball fan.

Mr. Klein was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Villa Assumpta Chapel, 6401 N. Charles St.

In addition to his daughter and granddaughter, Mr. Klein is survived by his wife of 71 years; another daughter, Nancy Gregg of Westminster; two other granddaughters; and six great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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