Norton, Henry

Norton, Henry

This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation

U.S. Army Intelligence Operative (Ritchie Boys)
Bautzen (Germany)

Heinrich Julius Nussenbaum (Henry Norton) was born in 1922 in Bautzen, a scenic hilltop town in eastern Saxony, Germany. He was the son of Samuel Abraham Nussenbaum and Regina Zweig Nussenbaum and the oldest of five siblings — Heinrich (Henry), Jakob (Jack), Siegfried, Isidor, and Doris.

His father owned a men’s clothing store and fur business in Bautzen at Moltkestrasse 2, adjacent to a Nazi headquarters. Daily, the uniformed Nazis assembled in front of the business, chasing away customers, and making it impossible to continue operating the business. Henry attended the Lessingschule in Bautzen for three years, from 1928 to 1931, before his parents and family moved to Breslau in Silesia, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) — a major city, where his father found it impossible to get a license to conduct business. His parents and two younger siblings moved back to Bautzen, and the three oldest brothers were boarded in a Jewish orphanage in order to attend the Jewish Rehdigerschule in Breslau from 1931-1936. When Henry graduated, he returned to his parents’ home in Bautzen and Isidor took his place at the orphanage and school in Breslau. It was very difficult to get work as a Jew, but he was able to obtain work for two weeks in a cement factory.  Henry then was employed at the Neudorf cardboard factory owned by the Altman family in Bautzen until he left Germany.

His father tried to emigrate from Germany to the U.S. and got good affidavits from his wife’s sister, who then resided in Rochester, New York, and submitted them to the American Consulate in Berlin. He was told that his family was too large and they would grant only one visa. There was no way his dad could leave a wife and five children behind to save himself so he told Henry “You’re the oldest one. You go and try your best to bring us over.” They were so hopeful, that when Henry came to America in 1937, they even sent along their clothes, dishes, china, pots, and pans, expecting to join him.

Henry came to America alone at age 15, not understanding any English.  He settled in Rochester, New York, where he attended Benjamin Franklin High School and also studied English at night.  After graduating from high school in 1940, he studied engineering at night at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  He worked at Noah’s Ark—a chain of automobile parts stores.  He earned $8 a week and spent $7 for room and board and $1 for bus fare.  Then he was hired for $50 a week at Todd Protectograph — a defense plant manufacturing machine guns and Fairchild aerial cameras that originally made safety checks and check-writers.  He eventually became a set-up man and was offered a deferment if he would stay with the company, but he declined and chose instead to enlist in the Army.

In 1939, his brother Jack was able to emigrate from Germany to the United States when the family obtained another visa.  Subsequently, Jack went on to serve in the U.S. Army in World War II and Korea, became an attorney, and served in Vietnam.  Jack was highly decorated and retired from his career in the military as a full Colonel.  He was the recipient of a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

Unfortunately, all of Henry’s grandparents perished and his father, mother, and sister Doris were all killed in a concentration camp.  Brothers Siegfried and Isidor together survived the Stutthof Concentration Camp near Danzig and several other camps, albeit wounded and scarred from beatings.  Shortly after their liberation, Siegfried, sick and weak from the concentration camps, was tragically shot and killed by a drunken Russian soldier.  Henry later heard through his father’s driver, who had escaped from Bautzen to Berlin, that his brother Isidor was alive in a DP camp in East Germany.  Henry was able to contact Isidor and urged him to escape to the western zone of Germany.  Henry sent money to Pan American Airlines for a ticket and he was able to expedite his brother’s immigration to the U.S.

Henry was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Niagara, New York, and, a month later, shipped to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training in artillery. He soon was transferred to Officer Candidate School and sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He returned to Fort Bragg as a Second Lieutenant, Field Artillery, commanding his old unit. From there he went to the 83rd Infantry Division at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, where he trained soldiers in field artillery gunnery practice.  He then was sent to the Military Intelligence School at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, where he took further training.  Ultimately, he was shipped to Casablanca, Morocco, and then to Algiers, Algeria, the military intelligence headquarters.  He joined the 88th Infantry Division 350th Infantry Regiment as an Interrogator of Prisoners of War (IPW) and remained with the 88th Division from Southern Italy to Florence.  He saw much heavy combat while interrogating enemy prisoners under fire.

“When I was an IPW, I had to hoof it. We were in a mountainous area of Italy with extremely difficult terrain. I was right at the front line with the 350th Infantry Regiment.  I saw heavy combat, with shells exploding all around us. I saw many soldiers get killed and injured.  While all of this was going on, prisoners were captured and brought before me.  I had soldiers working with me who guarded the prisoners with their rifles and I would interrogate enemy prisoners during combat.  Following each interrogation we would write up a report and arrange for the intelligence data to be immediately disseminated to those Army units directly affected and which would benefit most from the information.  From these prisoners, we would extract their name, unit, identification, rank, classification, and precise details as to where enemy troops were located, the number of soldiers in each unit, the numbers of each type of weapons they had, the supplies and reinforcements expected, all pinpointed by precise coordinates. We would locate ammunition supply depots and where they were being delivered to the enemy front-line units.”

He immediately disseminated intelligence to the affected units and informed them as to various locations where mortar, artillery, machine gun, or rifle fire was to be directed.

He was promoted as an intelligence officer to the Fifth Army Headquarters, G2 Intelligence Section, and later served with Seventh Army Headquarters, G2 Intelligence Section, during the invasion of France and in Germany. He helped plan the invasion of Southern France and landed in St. Tropez and moved through Nancy, Luneville, and Strasbourg into Germany.  He was headquartered at Seventh Army Headquarters in Augsburg and later in Heidelberg. As head of the Enemy Document Section of the Seventh Army, he established headquarters at the Library of the University of Heidelberg.

Shortly before he was discharged, Henry’s orders were to travel with his Jeep (named Jenny after his future wife) throughout all European battle zones (French, English, and American) to locate and contact the leading German scientists who developed the V1 and V2 rockets, including Wernher von Braun and his brother. He was given some leads and addresses and received others from the scientists themselves, many of whom had worked with I. G. Farben before the war.  Henry visited each one and induced many to come to the U.S. and continue with their rocket research at a time when America was fearful of having some conflict with the Russians.  These scientists were all glad to flee from the Russians and come over to the American line. In return for engaging in scientific research and remaining in the U.S. for one year and more, the Army offered to take care of their families who remained in Germany for one year, putting them up in hotels and other suitable quarters, and providing education to their children.  After performing their research in the U.S. for a year, the families of these rocket scientists were to be brought over at government expense.

In October 1945, Henry, who had risen to the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army and had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, was discharged from active duty at Camp Blanding in Northern Florida.

He moved to Miami, Florida, because his future wife, Jenny Cohen, had moved there from Rochester, New York.  Henry and Jenny married on June 9, 1946, and have two daughters—Rita Faye Norton, an attorney, and Susan Marlene Norton, a real estate agent.

After the war, Henry served as commanding officer of the U.S. Army Reserves Military Intelligence Detachment in Miami, where he remained until his five year renewable enlistment period had expired.  He joined the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. and rose to be Post Commander and Florida State Commander.

His first job after discharge from active duty was at a defense plant, cleaning, and dismantling heavy machinery used to assemble airplanes. Then he opened a dry-cleaning plant. Although he knew nothing about the business, he learned a lot from his father-in-law who had worked in his brother’s major cleaning and laundry plant in Rochester. In 1949, Henry sold the plant and enrolled in the University of Miami School of Law.  He received his J.D. degree in June 1952, following the lead of his brother Jack who graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1951.  Henry remains actively engaged in his law practice in Miami.

His basic upbringing—being born into a religious family; living an orderly, decent, and ethical life as tough as it was; the strict behavior and regimentation at the orphanage; and the excellent education received at the all-Jewish school–helped him in later life to be strict, organized, and honest. He advises young people today to be better behaved, stay away from drugs and smoking, be honest in all respects, be observant, and pay attention to their elders.

Interview information:

Date of Interview: July 25, 2011
Length of Interview: 45 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran

To view this oral history video interview, please click here.