Henry Kamm, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times who covered Cold War diplomacy in Europe and the Soviet Union, famine in Africa, and wars and genocide in Southeast Asia, is in Paris Sunday dead. He turned 98.
Mr. Kamm’s son, Thomas, confirmed the death at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
From the continent he fled at the age of 15 to escape Nazi persecution during World War II, to the battlefields and killing fields of what was then known as Indochina, Mr. Kamm was the consummate star of The Foreign Staff of The Times: A fast, precise, stylish writer, fluent in five languages, with global contacts and journalistic instincts who found human dramas and historical perspectives in the news of the day.
His early displacement greatly influenced his 47-year career at The Times, Thomas Kamm, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, said in a 2017 email. a voice and the oppressed,” he said.
Henry Kamm won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for articles about the plight of Southeast Asian refugees who fled their war-torn homeland in 1977 and braved the South China Sea. Many sailed for months in small, insecure fishing boats, suffered horrendous hardships, only to become unwanted on any coast.
In interviews with hundreds of refugees — “boat people,” as they were called, who had sought safety in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Japan — Mr. Kamm wrote of the desperation of men, women and children whose escape from probable death had led to trials of near starvation, horrors of drowning on the high seas and crushing rejection when the world rejected them.
“In the sad picture of the wanderings by land and sea of tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia since the end of the Indochina War two years ago,” Mr. Kamm wrote from Singapore, “nothing more fully exemplifies all the irony and pain from people who thought they were choosing freedom and ended up in a limbo of hostility or indifference from those they expected help from.
A derelict freighter anchored in Singapore harbor, he wrote, was loaded with 249 Southeast Asian refugees who had boarded the ship in Thailand and lived on its open deck for four months, through lashing storms and merciless days of burning sun. haven’t found refuge in port after port.
“At first they waited to go to a country that would give them a home,” Mr. Kamm wrote. “Then they lowered their hopes to finding a country that would acknowledge their existence and let them go ashore at least temporarily until one government or the other decided to let them come and stay.”
Because of Mr. Kamm’s reports, the Pulitzer judges noted, the United States and several other countries eventually opened their doors to the Southeast Asian refugees.
Mr. Kamm later wrote two books on Asia. In “Dragon Ascending: Vietnam and the Vietnamese” (1996), he portrayed a nation struggling under communism and summarized its war with the United States in the perspective of a 4,000-year history.
His book “Cambodia: Report From a Stricken Land” (1998) traces that country’s descent into barbarism, from the Khmer Rouge’s murder of millions of its own citizens in the late 1970s through the decades of economic and social suffering that followed. .
“Kamm’s account of Cambodia’s long tragedy is sober, blunt and angry,” wrote Arnold R. Isaacs in The New York Times Book Review. “Based almost entirely on its own reporting, it draws little to no material from the work of other journalists and historians. That this proves to be a strength, not a weakness, is a tribute to the quality of Kamm’s journalism over the years.”
He was born Hans Kamm in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw in Poland) on June 3, 1925, to Rudolf and Paula (Wischnewski) Kamm. The boy grew up fluent in German.
His Jewish father was arrested in Nazi roundups of Jews after the events of Crystal Night in November 1938, but was released from Buchenwald concentration camp on the condition that he leave Germany, which he did in May 1939, on his way to England and the United States. States. States where he settled. Hans and his mother, after a long, anxious wait for visas in Breslau, crossed Europe in a sealed train to Portugal, reaching 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 became a naturalized American citizen under the name Henry Kamm. When he turned 18, he enlisted in the World War II army and fought against 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 copyboy.
During the next decade, Mr. Kamm was a newsroom clerk and then an editor in New York, but he had three headlines, two in 1958 about developments in the recording industry and a 1954 first-person account of island hopping in the Lesser Antilles, an archipelago 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. Kamm lived with Pham Lan Huong, with whom he raised her son Bao Son. With the exception of Pham Lan Huong, who died in 2018, all of them survive Mr. Kamm, along with 10 grandchildren.
After The Times began an international edition in Paris in 1960, Mr. Kamm was sent there as assistant news editor. In 1964 he became a foreign correspondent and began covering stories across Europe.
In 1966 he was ordered to cover Poland full-time.
In 1967, he wrote from Lidice, in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), about the continuing horror of the 1942 massacre of 173 men in retaliation for the murder of a Nazi official. And on a visit to Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazis, Mr. Kamm told of an old woman who swayed on the ruins of a crematorium where bodies had been burned as she read the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the kill.
“The old woman finished the prayer, kissed the book and put it back in the shopping bag she had held between her feet while praying,” he wrote. ‘She took out of the bag a candle that Jews light on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. She lit it, set it in a sheltered place deep in the rubble of the oven, climbed to the ground and went silently away.”
Mr. Kamm served as bureau chief of The Times in Moscow from 1967 to 1969 and won a George Polk Award for his reporting from the Soviet Union.
In 1968 he reported on the Prague Spring, a period of liberal reforms – later suppressed by Warsaw Pact troops – led by communist leader Alexander Dubcek.
One of Mr. Kamm’s top news sources was his friend Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989-92) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).
Mr. Kamm later had assignments in Southeast Asia, Paris and Tokyo, where he was bureau chief.
In the 1970s, while living in Paris, he made frequent trips to sub-Saharan Africa to beat devastating droughts, crop failures, and famine. He was based in Geneva in the 1990s and reported from many countries in Europe and Asia.
After his retirement in 1996, Mr. Kamm in Lagnes, France, near Avignon in Provence. He later moved to a retirement home in the west of Paris, adjacent to the Bois de Boulogne park.
In 2018, he applied for and was granted German citizenship – a kind of reconciliation with the country he fled as a teenager. The archive of his papers, which includes some 7,000 Times articles, is held by the New York Public Library.