Henry Kamm, Pulitzer-Winning New York Times Journalist, Dies at 98

Former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent Henry Kamm, who covered Cold War diplomacy between Europe and the Soviet Union, famine in Africa, war and genocide in Indochina, died Sunday in Paris. he was 98 years old.

Kam’s son Thomas was pronounced dead at St Joseph’s Hospital.

From the continent where he fled at the age of 15 to escape Nazi persecution during World War II, to the battlefields and killing fields of Indochina, Mr. Kam was the highest star of the Times’ foreign staff. He was a fast, precise, stylish writer, fluent in five languages. A language with a reporting instinct that has connections all over the world and finds human drama and historical perspectives from the news of the day.

Former Wall Street Journal correspondent Thomas Kamm said in a 2017 email that his early exile had a profound impact on his 47-year career at The Times. “This explains the concern he always showed throughout his career as a journalist for refugees, dissidents and disadvantaged voices and the downtrodden,” he said.

Henry Kam won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his account of the plight of refugees from Indochina who braved the South China Sea after fleeing their war-torn homeland in 1977. Many sailed for months in small and dangerous fishing boats, suffered great deprivation, and eventually found themselves not needed on any coast.

During interviews with hundreds of refugees — known as “boat people” — who sought safety in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Japan, Kam said he was fleeing refugees. I wrote about the despair of men, women and children. Perhaps the possibility of death brought an ordeal close to starvation, the fear of drowning on the high seas, and overwhelming rejection when the world turned its back on them.

“In the sad state of affairs with tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia wandering by land and sea since the end of the Indochina war two years ago, nothing so perfectly embodies the whole situation. No,” Kham wrote from Singapore. The cynicism and pain of those who thought he had chosen freedom but was trapped in the trap of hostility and indifference from those he expected help from. “

A decrepit cargo ship docked in the port of Singapore was carrying 249 Indochinese refugees who had embarked in Thailand and spent four months on an open deck through days of violent storms and relentless sun, he wrote. . One harbor after another has no resting place.

“At first they were waiting to go to a country that would give them a home,” Kam wrote. “They then acknowledged their existence and lowered their hopes of finding a country that would allow them to land at least temporarily until some government decided to allow them to stay.”

Pulitzer’s judges noted that Kamm’s report ultimately led the United States and several other countries to open up to Indochinese refugees.

Kam has since written two books on Asia. Rising Dragon: Vietnam and the Vietnamese (1996) portrays a nation suffering under communism, recreating the war with the United States from the perspective of 4,000 years of history.

His book, Cambodia: Reports from Disaster Areas (1998), traces the Khmer Rouge’s murder of millions of its own people in the late 1970s to the economic and social hardships of the decades that followed. All the way through, I followed the process of how this country fell into savagery.

Arnold R. Isaacs wrote in a book review for The New York Times, “Cam’s account of Cambodia’s long tragedy is understated, candid, and full of rage.” “It is based almost entirely on his own reporting, with little citation of material from the work of other journalists and historians. It’s a product of the quality of journalism.”

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

The Jewish father was arrested during the Nazi roundup of Jews after the Crystal Nights incident in November 1939, but was released from the Buchenwald concentration camp on condition that he left Germany in late 1939, and was sent to England. and went to America. the state in which he settled; After a long and fearful wait for visas in Breslau, Hans and his mother crossed Europe on a smuggled train to Portugal, arriving in New York on a Portuguese ship in 1941.

Hans attended George Washington High School in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan to learn English. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1943 under the name Henry Kamm. At 18, he enlisted in the World War II Army and fought against the Germans in Belgium and France, where he learned French.

He was discharged in 1946 and attended New York University, graduating in 1949 with a degree in English. He was so impressed by his knowledge of foreign affairs and language skills that The Times hired him as a copyboy.

Over the next decade, Mr. Kam worked as a newsroom clerk and later copy editor in New York, where he wrote three bylined articles. He authored two of his books on the development of the recording industry in 1958 and a first-person article on an island-hopping trip to America in 1954. Lesser Antilles, islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea.

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. Kam has lived with Pham Lan Huong since the 1970s and raised her adopted son Bao Song together. They all survived with Kam and his 10 grandchildren, except for Pham Lan Phuong, who died in 2018.

When The Times launched its Paris-based international edition in 1960, Mr. Cam was sent to Paris as a news editorial assistant. In 1964 he became a foreign correspondent and began covering all of Europe.

In 1966 he was assigned to cover Poland full time.

In 1967, from Lidice, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), he wrote about the lingering horrors of the 1942 massacre of 173 people in retaliation for the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi official. Mr. Kamm also visited Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis, and sat on the ruins of a crematorium where the bodies were burned while reading the kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead. I told the story of an old woman who was rocking her body.

“When the old lady finished her prayer, she kissed the book and put it back into the shopping bag she had held between her legs while she was praying,” he wrote. “From her bag she took a Jewish-lit candle on the anniversary of her loved one’s death. She lit it, placed it in a sheltered place deep in the rubble of the furnace, descended to the ground and quietly I left.”

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

In 1968 he covered the Prague Spring. The Prague Spring was a period of liberal reforms under the communist leader Alexander Dubcek, which was later suppressed by the invasion of the Warsaw Pact forces.

Among Kamm’s best news sources was his friend Vaclav Havel. He was a Czech writer and dissident who was the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989-92) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).

Kam then went on to work in Southeast Asia, Paris and Tokyo, where he served as a bureau chief.

In the 1980s, based in Rome and Athens, he frequently traveled to sub-Saharan Africa to cover devastating droughts, crop failures and famine. He was based in Geneva in the 1990s and has covered many countries in Europe and Asia.

After retiring in 1996, Cam lived in Lagne near Avignon in Provence, France. He then moved to a retirement home adjacent to the Bois de Boulogne park in western Paris.

In 2018, he applied for and obtained German citizenship. This was a kind of reconciliation with Germany, from which he fled as a teenager. An archive of his papers, including approximately 7,000 Times articles, is kept at the New York Public Library.

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