I was twelve years old when the radio announced that the Allies had launched the long awaited invasion of Europe that would ultimately lead to victory and the end of World War II. That day was June 6, 1944 and would come to be known as D-Day.
This June will be the 60th anniversary of that historic event.
I beg your indulgence as I begin the story, about one of the greatest assignments of my long career as a newspaper photographer.

By Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer (retired)
The darkness outside of the plane window diminished and became gray. Where there had been mere pin points of light, there were now British cottages and farm houses and then the gray waters of the English Channel and soon more farmhouses and cottages of the French countryside. The flight attendants busied themselves with picking up the detritus of a couple of hundred weary travelers as they prepared the cabin for landing in Frankfurt, Germany.
I was very impressed with the efficiency of modern Germany. Everything is geared to making life as convenient as possible for citizen and foreigner alike. We picked up our baggage and cleared Customs and Immigration in no time at all. Our plans were to take a train to our first interview, Franz Gockel of Hamm Rhynern in West Central Germany. Kindall and I thought that we would probably have to take a bus or taxi from the airport to the railroad station in the city of Frankfurt. But, lo and behold, there was a railroad station right beneath the airline terminal. We checked with the Station Master once we got there and found that there was a train right to Hamm Rhynern in about twenty minutes and we were given the number of the train and the platform. We went there to wait. Every few minutes there were announcements being broadcast over the platform speakers but they were in German so we didn’t understand anything that was said. Twenty minutes passed and while there were several trains that stopped to board passengers, none bore the number of the one we wanted. Another ten minutes passed, and several more trains. I announced to Kindall that I was surprised that our train could be so late, given the marvelous efficiency exhibited by the Germans. A young man and his wife overheard my remark and came over to us.
“ Excuse me,” he said in excellent, though accented English. “I couldn’t help overhear your conversation. Obviously you didn’t understand the station announcements. One of them pointed out that the train to Hamm had been re-routed due to track work and would be bypassing this station. You will have to take another train to another station where you will be able to meet your train.” He then proceeded to give us some rather complex directions with which to accomplish this. When he saw the look of puzzlement come over our faces, he smiled and said that we should follow him and his wife. They would be on the train and would tell us when to get off to make our connection. We expressed our gratitude and relief and when they boarded their train, we followed them. After about twenty minutes they said that they were getting off at the next station and that we should get off as well. When I asked if they were also getting on the train to Hamm, he said no; he and his wife would now return to the Frankfurt Airport station in order to resume their trip. They had taken a side trip that would cost them forty minutes of their time in order to help out a couple of bewildered Americans. Damn! That was so nice. I couldn’t see that happening in my beloved US of A. This was just one of several incidents that would endear me to Germany and her citizens. And being Jewish and growing up during the obscenity that was Nazi Germany in World War II, I had always had mixed feelings about all things German. Now, I came to understand that this was no longer the same people or the same country.
We thanked our kind friends and when we arrived at Hamm, we phoned Franz Gockel to let him know that we had arrived. Gockel owns the largest roofing company in Germany and was busy at his office when we called. But he told us that he would send his brother to pick us up at the station. The brother arrived and took us to the office. It was fortunate that the brother was there since he spoke excellent English and was able to interpret for us. Franz spoke some English with difficulty and Jimmy Kindall spoke a little high school German, with even more difficulty.

© Newsday photo by Dick Kraus

Franz Gockel, who was a German machine gunner at Omaha Beach, shown in his home town of Hamm Rhynern, Germany.

Our interview began in Franz’s comfortable office. I had dragged my heavy tripod halfway around the world so that I would be able to shoot these interviews using natural light with some weak flash fill. The tripod would allow me to shoot at slow shutter speeds without resorting to grainy, high-speed film. If I had to shoot head shots, I wanted these simple headshots to at least have some of the ambiance of these European locations and not washed-out straight flash pictures. I had a feeling that the photos made in the homes and offices of our subjects would have a different feel to them compared to similar photos taken back on Long Island.
I set my camera and tripod about ten feet from Gockel and used medium to wide-angle lenses as he spoke. I was far enough away from him to avoid having him and Kindall feel that I was “in their faces.” And, I could still have a wide view of him showing the office background, or I could zoom in tight for a real chin to eyebrow close-up. This was to be my “head shot” technique for the duration of the assignment.

With his brother helping us over the tough spots, Franz showed us some of the World War II photos that graced his office. I asked and received permission to copy some of the pictures (another good reason for bringing the cumbersome tripod on the trip) and was able to get some wonderful pictures of a young Gockel in his German Army uniform as well as some shots of him manning his machine gun from a position overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy.

We took a break so that Kindall and I could check into a nearby hotel after which we met Franz, his wife, Hedwig and his brother, Heinrich, for dinner at a fine restaurant.
I ordered a steak with some kind of paprika sauce that was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten. I have tried to find that item on the menus at German restaurants in the U.S. but to no avail.
After dinner, we returned to the Gockel home which was comfortable, yet unostentatious, given their obvious wealth. The interview and photos continued in the living room and Gockel supplemented his narrative with diaries and maps that he had kept during his soldiering. I found that most of the German veterans with whom we spoke were meticulous record keepers and were able to back up their statements with diaries, maps, newspaper clippings and hand drawn diagrams.
Franz Gockel recounted how he had been drafted into the German Army. He had been trained as a machine gunner and he celebrated his 19th birthday while preparing for the anticipated Allied invasion of Normandy from his defensive position overlooking the English Channel beaches at Colleville-sur-Mer. This was a part of the Normandy beachhead that would come to be known as Bloody Omaha.
Gockel showed us his machine gun nest on diagrams of the area that he had drawn. He described, in detail, how nervous he and his comrades were as they waited for the battle they knew was coming. He told us about the night of June 5th, 1944, as he stood his watch from a trench atop of the cliffs overlooking the Channel. The night was dark and foggy and nothing could be seen as he gazed into the void. Sometime in the early morning hours of June 6th, he said that he became aware of rumbling noises that grew louder with every passing minute. He knew that the noises were ship engines. Many of them. But, they were masked from view by the darkness and the fog. By now the alert had been passed up and down the line and the entire company was in the trenches and dugouts, manning their machine guns and peering into the darkness for the first signs of the enemy.
The sky grew brighter as the hour of dawn arrived, and the noise in front of them intensified. But, the heavy fog still prevented the men from seeing anything. Suddenly, the fog lifted and Gockel described a sight that is etched into his mind, until this day. The entire expanse of water before him was packed with ships and boats and landing craft of every size and description. He couldn’t comprehend that there could be that many things afloat in the world. He went on to describe the fury of the naval bombardment that was unleashed as the visibility improved. Thousands upon thousands of shells arced towards the beach and the gun emplacements on the cliffs. Gockel and his comrades hugged the earthen walls and floors of their trenches and dugouts that shook from the reverberations of the explosions all around them.
There is an opening scene in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” in which actor Tom Hanks is shown wading ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The sound and the fury of the raging battle is so intense that it overwhelms the senses and the din fades to a level of white noise in the background because the human mind cannot perceive such pandemonium. This was what Franz Gockel described to us, years before the release of the movie. And, I have heard the same phenomenon echoed by D-Day veterans from both sides.
After the bombardment lifted, the Germans ran to man their guns. The first waves of landing craft were ready to begin discharging their troops. To his amazement, Gockel described how many of the landing craft were too far offshore when they opened their ramps. He watched as hundreds of unsuspecting American GI’s stepped off the ramps into water that was well over their heads. Weighed down with weapons and packs, the men went straight to the bottom and drowned without firing a shot.
Gockel described how he began firing with his own heavy machinegun as the boats finally came ashore. As soon as the ramps lowered, he would rake the inside of the boats with withering fire. Few survived the carnage.
I had to pause in my photography, for a moment, as the realization sunk in that I was listening to a former enemy talk about the wholesale slaughter of Americans. I had ambivalent feelings about what I was hearing. I realized that these events took place almost half a century ago, when our two nations were locked in mortal combat. I thought about the compassionate German couple who had gone out of their way to help us, just hours before. I had to deal with the fact that I was recording a piece of history and that Franz Gockel was no longer my enemy.
We listened to the old German veteran speak of his experiences; Kindall writing furiously in his note pad and I looking for different angles and perspectives. Frau Gockel brought us something to eat and drink, and suddenly we realized that it had grown very late. We agreed to meet for breakfast, the next morning and then Jim and I would take a train to our next interview, which was scheduled for the afternoon of that day. We said goodnight and went back to our hotel.
The next morning, over breakfast, Franz told us how he returns to Normandy every year, to the scene of the battle. His machine gun emplacement is still there. A short walk to the south there is now the American Military Cemetery with its stark rows of white crosses, interspersed with white Stars of David. He tells us that he goes to the nearby German Military Cemetery each year, and lays flowers at the graves of his fallen friends. I tell him that we will be in Normandy, next week. He asks if we would like to meet him there and he will shows us the places about which he has been describing. I jumped at the opportunity to be able to photograph him in such a setting. We agreed to meet in four days, on Sunday, November 21st; the first full day that we will be in Normandy.
Jim and I settle back in the comfortable First Class compartment aboard the train taking us to Celle, Germany and a rendezvous with Heinrich Severloch. The trip will take us most of the day. I like these European trains, with their compartments. It gives one the feel of a private room. They contain two facing sets of plush couch like seats, which hold six travelers in the compartment. Our train wasn’t crowded so Jim and I had the compartment to ourselves and we stretched out next to the large window and watched the picturesque countryside slide past.
I was aching from the burden of humping a large duffel bag containing enough clothing to last me for two weeks. We would be traveling each day and wouldn’t have time to do any laundry, so the duffel was jammed with clothes and the cumbersome tripod that I had brought. In addition, there was a large, heavy camera bag that held my two Nikon F-4’s, four lenses, a couple of Nikon Flash units, remotes and other related paraphernalia. Then there was a mussette bag containing several bricks of color negative film. It was all I could do to heave those items up onto the luggage racks overhead.
Kindall and I talked about how the assignment was going, but mostly we contended ourselves with watching the storybook villages with their ancient castles dotting the shores of the Rhine River that our train was following.
We took a cab from the railroad station, to the home of Heinrich Severloch. He was a tall, lanky, dour man who rarely smiled. He was recently divorced and was living with a beautiful, younger woman who served us refreshments and then left us to interview her boyfriend.

Severloch had also been a machine gunner at Omaha Beach, in the same outfit as Franz Gockel. His story was pretty much the same as Gockel’s. He, too, hunkered low in his dugout as Allied shells screamed across the dark void and exploded around him. He also saw the armada of ships crowding the Channel as the sky brightened and the fog lifted. His finger tightened on the trigger and he felt his weapon jerk and buck as he fired round after round into the mass of humanity pouring out of the boats below. He mumbled, “Poor pigs,” as he saw the devastation that he was causing.

© Newsday photo by Dick Kraus

Heinrich Severloch, another German machine gunner at Omaha Beach, shows us a photos album from his army years, in his living room in Celle, Germany.

Severloch then told us of an unusual circumstance that would impact upon his life. Like Franz Gockel, he would return to the battle scene each year, after the war ended. As time passed, he found himself talking with American Veterans who also came back to the Normandy Beaches. They would talk about their mutual experiences and the former enemies started to become friends.
One of them, David E. Silva, had been wounded at Omaha Beach. He prayed that he would survive the carnage taking place around him. And he promised his life to God if he did. At war’s end, Silva entered the ministry and became an army chaplain. He and Severloch met at one of the veteran reunions in Normandy and when each related his story to the other, it became obvious that Silva had been wounded in the sector cover by Severloch’s machine gun. There was no doubt in either man’s mind that Silva had been shot by Severloch.
The two men became fast friends and over the years, in addition to keeping up correspondence and meeting at the annual reunions, the two have visited each other’s homes.
I was able to make copies of the photographs that Severloch had of the two of them together.

The next day, Kindall and I took a train back to Frankfort where we were scheduled to have an interview with Rudolf Schaaf. He had been a Lieutenant in an artillery unit who faced the British between Sword and Juno Beaches.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

Our interview with Rudolf Schaaf, a former lieutenant with a German Army artillery unit, took place in his living room in Frankfurt, Germany.

Then we were back on a train, later that day, to travel through the beautiful, forested mountains to the village of Zweibrucken and an interview with Dr. Walter Schaad. He had been with the German Army Medical Service at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
I was fascinated hearing the stories these men told. I concentrated on getting pictures that would express the emotions the veterans showed while reliving their experiences. And, I tried to show them in context with the lives they were living while I was with them. There was something about the quality of the light in northern Germany on late afternoons in November that is different from that of Long Island. I tried to use everything at my disposal to emphasize the fact to Newsday readers that these pictures were not made on Long Island.
Dr. Schaad was our last interview in Germany. That night we rode the train back to Frankfort, where early the next morning we would take an express train to Caen, France to begin our week of work in Normandy.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

In the village of Zweibrucken, located in the beautiful forested mountains, Dr. Walter Schaad points out the location of his medical unit on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

It was after midnight when Kindall and I detrained at the Frankfort station. We were totally exhausted by our frenetic schedule and were anxious to find a hotel to get a few hours sleep before heading to France. Rather than haul our heavy bags around the city, looking for a hotel, I suggested that I stay at the station with the luggage while Jim scouted the area near the station for a hotel; any hotel, as long as it had a clean bed. We got one of those hand trucks for baggage and piled our gear on that and Jimmy headed out on his mission.
It was very late and there wasn’t much traffic in the normally bustling terminal. I stood off to the side of the huge waiting area. My camera bag was looped over the handle of the baggage cart and I kept my hands on it, because everything near and dear to me at that point was in that bag. All of my cameras and lenses. All of the exposed film and caption notes. My passport and even my money were in the zippered pockets of that bag. I did that because I knew that the bag would never be off of my person. And so, I kept my hands tightly clasped on the shoulder strap that looped over the handle of the cart.
I stood that way, next to a large window that looked in on a cafeteria in the main waiting room, waiting for Jim to come back. An unshaven, shabbily dressed derelict shuffled over to me and mumbled something incomprehensible.
“ Niche sprechenze Deutch.” I answered, hoping that he would understand that I didn’t speak German. Whatever he had said to me before, he repeated in a more urgent tone. And I repeated my answer and gripped the strap of my camera bag even tighter. He pulled from his pocket, a grimy, oft folded scrap of paper and pointing to it, he continued to ask something of me in a language that I didn’t recognize and certainly wasn’t German. In frustration, I shouted my response in English, that I didn’t understand what he was saying, and with both hands, I gestured for him to go away. He mumbled something and wandered off.
I went to replace my hands on the camera bag strap when my heart froze. I looked down. The bag was gone! How could that be? I had only removed my hands for a split second to wave the man away. I saw him walk off and he wasn’t carrying my bag. What the Hell had happened? I was doomed. Not only was all of my equipment gone, but also all of the exposed film containing everything that I had shot up to this point. Gone also was my money and my passport. Shit!
I looked around for the stranger but he was nowhere in sight. Pushing the cumbersome baggage cart before me, I ran toward the exit doors screaming, “Police! Polizia!” and any other word that might mean police in some language that someone might understand. But, the waiting room was deserted and no one heard my cries. I pushed the cart outside the station and in the distance, I saw someone running. He had my bag. As I ran in his direction, I noticed several other men running with him. I had no idea if they were accomplices or someone chasing him to get my bag back. Just before he disappeared around a corner, I saw him heave my camera bag under a parked car. One of the other running men veered off and reached down to retrieve the bag before running off in the direction of the others. I had not a clue as to what was happening. Just then, I spotted a police van pulling into the station parking lot and I ran over to it.
“ Does anyone speak English?” I gasped, trying to regain my breath. One of the officers in the back of the van said that he spoke a little. I explained what had transpired and what I had seen and asked if they could radio an alarm to try to retrieve my camera bag. The officer explained, politely, that they were from the metropolitan police and this crime happened in the jurisdiction of the railroad police. I couldn’t comprehend why they couldn’t get involved. Cops is cops and a crime had taken place. But, they told me how to find the office of the railroad police, inside the station, and I headed there, pushing what remained of our luggage.
When I got inside, I met Kindall, who had just returned from his hotel finding mission. I filled him in as we headed to the office of the railroad cops. We entered the office and found ourselves at a counter. There was no one at the counter and as I looked around the room, I saw a bunch of men in civilian clothes, standing around a desk. And there, on the desk, was my camera bag. For the first time since this circus began, I drew a full breath and felt my heart beat again.
One of the men broke away and came over to us. He spoke English and I explained who I was and what had happened. I told him that the bag was mine and in which pocket he would find my passport, as proof of my ownership.
I had to spend a couple of hours filling out reports by dictating my story in English, which then had to be translated into German. The cop explained to me that he had seen the whole thing transpire through the window of the cafeteria where I had been standing. He was a plainclothes detective assigned to watch for just such events. As soon as he saw the bag being snatched by an accomplice, who I never even knew was there, he was on his walkie-talkie and the chase began.
I told him that I felt so stupid, allowing myself to be so distracted as to take my hands off the bag. He assured me that I never stood a chance. He said that the two men were part of a ring of Algerian immigrants who preyed upon unwary travelers at stations and airports. He told me that the man with whom I was engaged in conversation would have kept badgering me until I gave his henchman an opportunity to swipe my bag.
They had captured the felon who took the bag and asked my help in identifying his partner. I looked through books and books of mug shots but I had no clear recollection of what the bastard looked like. I was sleepy and wasn’t really paying much attention. All of the faces in the mug book looked alike. They thanked me for my help. They thanked ME? I couldn’t thank them enough and one of the first things that I did when I returned to the US was to write a letter to the Chief of the Railroad Police, praising his officers and department and I thanked them for their excellent police work.
By the time Jim and I got to the hotel and into bed, there was only time for a couple of hours sleep before we had to return to the station to catch our train to Normandy. But, at least I was able to sleep peacefully, content in the knowledge that I was continuing our adventure with my cameras, film and other valuables intact.




Contents Page

Contents Page Editorials The Platypus Links Copyright
Portfolios Camera Corner War Stories  Dirck's Gallery Comments
Issue Archives Columns Forums Mailing List E-mail Us
 This site is sponsored and powered by Hewlett Packard