Henry Kamm, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, dies at 98

Henry Kamm, the former New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent who covered Cold War diplomacy in Europe and the Soviet Union, famine in Africa, and wars and genocide in Southeast Asia, died Sunday in Paris. He was 98 years old.

Mr. Cam’s son Thomas confirmed the death at St Joseph’s Hospital.

From the continent where he fled at age 15 to escape Nazi persecution during World War II, to the battlefields and killing fields of what was then Indochina, Mr. Cam is the stellar star of The Times’ foreign staff: a quick, precise and elegant writer, fluent in five languages, his global connections and journalistic instincts found the human drama and historical perspectives in today’s news.

His early exodus had a profound effect on his 47-year career with the Times, Thomas Kamm, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, said in an email in 2017. Voice and the oppressed.”

Henry Kamm won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for essays on the plight of Southeast Asian refugees who fled their war-torn homelands in 1977 and braved the South China Sea. Many sailed for months in small and unsafe fishing boats, enduring appalling privations, only to find themselves unwanted on any shore.

In interviews with hundreds of refugees — “boat people,” as they are called, who have sought safety in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Japan — Mr. Kam writes of the desperation of the men, women and children who fled potential death to an ordeal near starvation and the horrors of drowning in the high seas and an overwhelming rejection as the world turned them away.

“In the sad picture of the wanderings on land and sea of ​​tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia since the end of the Indochina War two years ago,” writes Mr. Kam of Singapore, “the ironies and pains of people who thought they had chosen freedom and ended up in a quandary from the hostility or indifference of those from whom they expected help.

He wrote that the decrepit freighter was anchored in the port of Singapore, laden with 249 refugees from Southeast Asia who had boarded the ship in Thailand and lived on its open deck, through fierce storms and days of scorching sun, for four months, finding no refuge in port after port.

“At first they waited to go to a country that would give them a home,” Mr. Cam wrote. “Then they lower their hopes of finding a country that will recognize their presence and allow them to return to shore at least temporarily until one government or another decides to allow them to stay.”

And the Pulitzer judges noted that because of Mr. Kamm’s reporting, the United States and many other countries finally opened their doors to refugees from Southeast Asia.

Cam later wrote two books on Asia. In Rising Dragon: Vietnam and the Vietnamese (1996), he portrayed a nation struggling under communism and recapitulated its war with the United States from the perspective of a 4,000-year history.

His book Cambodia: A Report from a Disastrous Land (1998) traced that nation’s descent into barbarism, from the killing of millions of its citizens by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s through the decades of economic and social suffering that followed.

Arnold Isaacs wrote in The New York Times Book Review: “Cam’s account of Cambodia’s long tragedy is full of exuberance, candor, and anger.” “Based almost entirely on his own reporting, he draws little, if any, material from the work of other journalists and historians. That this turns out to be a strength, not a weakness, is a tribute to the quality of Cam’s journalism over the years.”

Hans Kamm was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw in Poland) on June 3, 1925, to Rudolf and Paula Kamm (Wischnewski) Kamm. The boy grew up fluent in German.

His Jewish father had been caught up in the Nazi concentration camps of Jews following the events of Kristallnacht in November 1938, but was released from the Buchenwald concentration camp on the condition that he leave Germany, which he did in May 1939, bound for England and the United States. where he settled. Hans and his mother, after a long and terrifying wait for visas in Breslau, crossed Europe on a closed train to Portugal and arrived in New York on a Portuguese ship in 1941.

Hans attended George Washington High School in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and learned English. In 1943, he was naturalized as a US citizen under the name Henry Kamm. At the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the World War II army and fought the Germans in Belgium and France, where he learned French.

Discharged in 1946, he attended New York University and graduated in 1949 with a degree in English. Impressed by his knowledge of foreign affairs and language skills, The Times hired him as a copy boy.

Over the next decade, Mr. Cam was a newsroom writer and then copy editor in New York, but had three articles written, two in 1958 on developments in the recording industry, and a personal account in 1954 on island hopping in the Lesser Antilles, a series Islands in the eastern Caribbean.

In 1950, he married Barbara Lifton. They had three children: Alison, Thomas, and Nicholas. The couple separated in the late 1970s and divorced many years later. Since the 1970s, Mr. Kam has lived with Pham Lan Huong, with whom he raises her son, Bao Soon. With the exception of Pham Lan Huong, who passed away in 2018, they are all survived by Mr Kam, along with 10 grandchildren.

After The Times began its international publication in Paris in 1960, Mr. Cam was sent there as assistant news editor. In 1964, he became a foreign correspondent and began covering news stories across Europe.

He was appointed to cover Poland full time in 1966.

In 1967, he wrote from Lidice, in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), about the continuing horrors of the 1942 massacre of 173 men in revenge for the assassination of a Nazi official. On a visit to Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered millions of Jews, Kamm told of an old woman bobbing over the ruins of the crematorium where bodies were burned as she recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

“The old lady finished the prayer, accepted the book and returned it to the shopping bag she carried between her feet during the prayer,” he wrote. “From the bag, she took a candle which had been lit by the Jews in remembrance of the death of a member of her family. She lit it, placed it in a sheltered spot deep in the wreckage of the furnace, lowered herself to the ground, and departed silently.”

Kamm was Moscow bureau chief for the Times from 1967 to 1969, and won the George Polk Award for his reporting from the Soviet Union.

In 1968, he covered the Prague Spring, a period of liberal reforms—later quelled by invading Warsaw Pact forces—under the leadership of communist leader Aleksander Dubcek.

Among Mr. Kam’s best news sources was his friend Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).

Cam subsequently took on assignments in Southeast Asia, Paris and Tokyo, where he was bureau director.

In the 1970s, while living in Paris, he made frequent trips to sub-Saharan Africa to cover devastating droughts, crop failures, and famine. Based in Geneva in the 1990s, he has been working in many countries in Europe and Asia.

After retiring in 1996, Mr. Cam lived in Lagen, France, near Avignon in Provence. He later moved to a retirement home in western Paris, next to the Bois de Boulogne park.

In 2018, he applied for and was granted German citizenship — a sort of reconciliation, with the nation he fled as a teenager. The New York Public Library maintains an archive of his papers, including some 7,000 articles in the Times.