Mr. King was born in Brooklyn, New York, but was moved to Walpole, Massachusetts, following his mother’s death when he was three years old and his father was unable to care for him. He attended school in Walpole and became active in music while in high school. At age 17, he attempted to enlist in the U.S. Navy’s V-12 program, but was rejected due to his color-blindness. However, he was accepted in the Army and entered their A-12 program which offered training in college level skills. The program was soon disbanded and Mr. King was sent for basic training to Camp Roberts, California, where he was assigned to the 11th Armored Division.
Mr. King was sent overseas in October, 1944 and following additional training in England entered France. During the middle of December, 1944, he was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge and was returned to England for hospitalization. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
Following his recuperation he re-joined his unit in mid-May 1945 and, while attached to the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion on a mission in a half-track, sighted what appeared to be a pile of bones. Closer examination revealed the pile to be human bodies near the entrance to what was later identified as the Gusen Labor Camp near Linz, Austria, a satellite of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
He entered the Camp through open gates and was given instructions to prevent any inmates from leaving the facility. He and the others in his unit were overwhelmed by the conditions in the Camp. He describes the inmates, all men, as being in poor physical condition, very gaunt, wearing various forms of clothing, milling around and very slow-moving. There was an indescribably bad smell in the Camp. Since his assignment was to keep everyone inside the Camp, Mr. King did not enter any barracks or go to the inside of the Camp, but he describes what he saw as terrible. He served on guard duty at the Camp or about 2 to 3 weeks. He did not know at the time that most of the inmates of the Camp were Jewish nor was he able, due to language differences to communicate with inmates or with German or Austrian civilians where he was billeted.
Mr. King does not know for sure that his unit was the first to enter the Camp. Since the gates were open and no guards were present, it is quite possible that another military unit previously arrived at the Camp. He also does not know whether the Camp was designated as Gusen 1, Gusen 2 or Gusen 3. He is currently researching this matter.
Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. King obtained a degree in library science through the use of the GI Bill and found a position with the Detroit Public Library in 1951, ultimately becoming its Associate Director. After that, he became the Director of the Mt. Clemens Library.
During his closing remarks, Mr. King was very complimentary about the Holocaust Memorial Center and paid special tribute to its library, which, as an expert in the field, he recognizes as being outstanding.
Date of Interview: July 2, 1997
Length of Interview: 45 minutes
Interview and Synopsis by: Hans R. Weinmann