Arriving at Henry’s home in Laguna Woods at promptly 10:00 a.m., Henry, who is 98 years old and in amazing shape, greeted me at his door with a friendly smile. I was very honored and truthfully quite excited to be photographing a US Veteran who participated in the Allied Effort during World War II to “destroy the German Army”, as he put it, and liberate the prisoners of the German Concentration Camps.
Henry Nahoum was born in New York in 1919. His parents had come to the states, just 3 years prior from Salonika, Greece. Henry’s father worked in a burlap bag factory, making bags for farmers, later owned a small Mediterranean style grocery store selling Greek and Italian foods. In 1931 when the business took a turn downward, the family moved to Brooklyn.
Henry entered dental school at Columbia University In 1940, working hard on the side to pay for his education. There were 50 students in his class.
In 1942, he applied for a commission in the Medical Administrative Corps Reserve, which kept him from being drafted. During his time at Columbia, Henry, began to hear from his classmates who were German Jews that had managed to flee Germany, that Jews were being imprisoned, yet there was no mention of any executions. That information didn’t make its way out of Germany yet.
When Henry graduated from Dental School he immediately became a 1st lieutenant.
He quickly learned from his fellow soldiers, that the Japanese were not observing the Geneva Convention, so he was trained to carry arms. He attended the Medical Field Service School and learned about the duties of a combat officer. Just like any other soldier, he went through an infiltration course, which included crawling under live machine gun bullets. I imagine this would be quite unnerving in itself.
Dispatched to England in 1944, Henry was thrust into the replacement depots, waiting for an assignment. In January 1945 in the midst of the devastating Allied losses incurred during the Battle of the Bulge, Henry was called upon to replace one of the six dental officers that were casualties or taken prisoner during the battle, and was assigned to the 109th Regiment of the 28th Infantry division. Each division has 12 dental officers and the 28th had lost ½ of them in battle. Henry was quickly warned to remove any trace of Red Cross clothing around his arms, as the German snipers were said to use these as targets. Although when Henry arrived, the battle had taken a turn in favor of the Allies, there were still many skirmishes that he witnessed. Earlier, before Henry joined the 28th, the commanding General, Major General Brown, was killed by a German Sniper while on an inspection tour.
As part of the 109th Regiment, Henry and his soldiers were amongst the 1st to cross the Rhine River, chasing Germans. While not certain of the name of the town (they were somewhere near Stuttgart and Heidelberg), they approached a Nazi prison Camp as the German guards abandoned the camp and ran away. Henry gives credit to the entire effort of the Allied soldiers, both in Europe and back at home in the States for liberating the camps. He said the units who came after them that brought the food, blankets and cigarettes could not have done it without the help of Henry’s men, who chased the guards. I can certainly see where this is true.
I asked Henry if it was daunting being over there, but he said he was not afraid. He said he was at peace with himself, and felt things were under control, even when coming into a new area witnessing bombs exploding with leaflets that indicted the Germans knew the Allies were coming for them
After the battle was over, Henry went with a Chaplain and collected fallen soldiers. Sadly there were huge losses.
Early in 1945, after Europe was liberated from Nazi rule, Henry and his fellow soldiers were told by their General they were such good fighting men, they were going to go to Japan, to be assault troops, helping McArthur invade Japan. Furthermore, they were told there were going to be 100,000 casualties the 1st day. Fortunately for them, while on ship going over there, the Atom bomb was dropped on Aug 8th. After that day, they would no longer be needed.
Henry shared with me that despite even to this day there are Holocaust deniers, the Germans never denied doing what they did, they just said they were forced to do it. Some were remorseful, some were not.
As we finished up, I asked Henry how he stayed in such great shape. His answer… “the secret is there is no secret”
I am so honored to have had the opportunity to photograph you and hear of your experiences. You served valiantly to bring us our greatest gift; freedom. While I myself am so grateful for what you and our Veterans do for this country, I am certain, that those who survived the war, hold you in the highest esteem and could not be more thankful for all you have done.
Henry, G-d Bless You!
Photo taken of Lieutenant Henry Nahoum in Feb. 44
Dr. William Kott
Bill Kott, a WWII veteran who fought under General Patton in the Third Army, ended our photo session by telling me that there is only one proper way to salute, that being with the arm at a crisp horizontal angle. An infantryman who was among the troops who liberated Buchenwald death camp in eastern Germany, Bill is a man of discipline and principle. Displaying frustration as he struggled to lift his arm to the required height in order to comply with my request to salute for a photo, Bill was not about to fail, and when I asked him to give me the look as if he were saluting General Patton, he persevered.
A man who had a difficult childhood, leaving home at the age of 16, Bill stated he joined the army, because that’s what you did. It was his duty, he said, “you follow through and go”. After two years of training in the US, Bill was sent to France, where the troops encountered the coldest winter on record. Without a real bed to sleep in for the remainder of the war and always on the go, Bill learned to survive and accept what came his way. General Patton would not have it any other way.
Eventually, after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, Infantryman Kott made his way to Germany, eventually reaching Buchenwald. It was there he witnessed the remaining 50 or so survivors. He was shocked to see them at first, saying they didn’t even look human, more like skeletons. Without a doubt, the warm welcome he received will be something Bill will always remember. The troops freed the survivors and helped them to get back into civilization.
While the war in Europe officially ended on May 8th, 1945, Bill, being a Bronze Star recipient, was called upon by Eisenhower to join the attack on Japan. Eisenhower, told him and the other troops however, that their chances of survival were slim, as the Japanese were very prepared. Fortunately for the U.S. troops, the atom bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war prior to Bill leaving the U.S. shore for Japan.
After his military life, Bill became a dentist, then a maxillofacial surgeon, and ultimately at the age of 60, a medical doctor. He retired from practice at the age of 89.
Concluding our session, I asked Dr. Kott what he may wish to pass on to future generations. It was no surprise, knowing all he had been through in life, that his message partially focused on the importance that we be grateful for what we have today. Furthermore, he emphasized having basic principles of human decency and respect. Bill said we must be honest in our dealings with others, be productive members of society, have integrity and do your job correctly. This, he stated emphatically, is what will get you through life with success and purpose.
I left our photo shoot and interview significantly impacted by this session and recognized that there was much more to his effort to salute properly than I originally realized. This salute was very symbolic of Bill’s approach to life, and the way he has embraced it, with respect, precision and determination.
I salute you, Dr. Bill Kott. You are a rare and wonderful man.
Sam Sachs, Lt. Col.
Recently, I had the honor to meet and photograph an American Hero. Sam Sachs, born on April 26, 1915 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, was 104 years old at the time of our get together. I arrived at 11 a.m. on a warm day in July, and found Sam going for his daily walk in above 90-degree temperatures. Clearly, he is a man who has taken great care of himself. As a Jewish Soldier who was determined to never be taken prisoner by the Germans while serving in Europe during WWII, I witnessed that his commitment to survival carried through to this day. I would ask him at the end of our session what his secrets of longevity were and he responded that he wouldn’t necessarily call them secrets, but that he did follow three rules, the first being to practice moderation in everything you do. Secondly, he said to exercise, exercise, exercise, and finally he said he always does his best to remain positive. The only time I saw any emotion from Sam, as captured in
my portrait, was during a time in our photo session when he recalled landing behind the lines at Utah Beach in France during the D-day invasion, as he took on fire from the Germans. Sam prayed for a gift of 24 hours to live after he landed his glider, called the “Flying Coffin”. He clearly was given this gift of life and many more beyond. Despite finding his life threatened as he observed the military might of the Germans on the shoreline, Sam was a committed soldier and proud to fight for his country. He would examine his plane after landing and was astounded that he could find only 1 bullet hole. Calling this a miracle of miracles, Sam took off his helmet, placed it over his heart, and looked up at the sky as he thanked G-d.
We discussed Sam’s early years, when he enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard at the age of 17. He stated he wanted to be someone when he grew up and had two goals, 1) to be an officer in the military, and 2) to be well educated. He certainly achieved both, retiring from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel after many years of service. In 1941, he was called to active duty in the Army, and 3 years later was company commander of logistics for the 325th glider infantry of the 82nd airborne in France. Sam was involved in the D-Day landing, and ultimately liberating an Extermination Camp in Germany. Seeing piles of bodies over 8 feet high, and lots of teenage kids barely alive in their bunks, he recalled feeling extreme horror upon walking into the camp, asking why any nation would do such a thing to humanity.
Despite everything he had seen and experienced throughout his lifetime, Sam still has a sense of humor. A positive person, he says “there is a silver lining in every cloud”, always doing his best to remain optimistic. He realizes that being a year before turning 105, he is entering rarefied atmosphere. “When I’m alive, that’s one day less than when I’m dead”, Sam said with a grin.