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Henry Kolm: The Last Story

A Reporter’s Notebook

I interviewed Henry at the house he had built in Wayland on a wooded overlook of the Sudbury River. We’d spent a pleasant afternoon together.

A week later his family notified me that he had suddenly died. He was 85.

Henry Kolm (Courtesy)

Our conversation had sparked his excitement. He wanted me to see the documentary “The Ritchie Boys.” It tells the stories of young Jews who’d escaped Germany and Austria, Hitler and the Holocaust, and had joined the U.S. Army. They had all been trained at Fort Ritchie and many, like Henry, had served as intelligence agents during the war.

Before receiving the German scientists and engineers at Fort Strong, Henry had been assigned to interrogate German prisoners of war, including high-ranking officers.

He prided himself that he had never used the tactics of the Gestapo.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” he said.

Henry had a life that was amazing in all its stages.

He co-founded the MIT Magnet Lab and developed world-record electromagnets. He was as much an inventor as those German scientists he’d handled at Fort Strong. And after retiring from MIT, he found success as an entrepreneur. He was a commercial pilot, a motorcyclist, an accomplished pianist, a black belt in Karate. And he raised a family on a 40-acre homestead.

But he spent the last week remembering his youth and the excitement of Project Paperclip out on Boston Harbor.

We arranged a trade. He’d send me a copy of “The Ritchie Boys” and I’d send him a copy of the biography of Wernher von Braun. I took his picture and was off. A week later, Henry died. The next day, my copy of “The Ritchie Boys” arrived.

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