<WARNING – This is a somewhat long read, with a LOT of images, and not exactly what I had planned on writing at the time I began this story.>
I’m a bit of a history addict.
Especially anything that involves the WWII era – and what is known as “The Greatest Generation”. The generation that banded together to put an end to one of the greatest evils the planet had seen in a very long while.
So when the opportunity came up to put my hands on, and shoot with, a camera that had travelled extensively through the European Theatre in the hands of an American GI, I jumped on that chance.
First I want to tell you about the prior owner – the late Herman (Zeke) Zederbaum. Below is the email I received from his son, Scott Zederbaum. The italicized portions are from his dad’s memoirs:
Subject: FW: My Dad in WW2
Enjoy the camera. I shipped it out this afternoon. The camera went all across Europe with my dad, in combat and in the liberation of a concentration camp.
My father was the late Herman (Zeke) Zederbaum. My father died in June of 1975 and was part of the 100th Infantry 325th Engineers Battalion Company C. He was a decorated explosive/demolition expert. He saw combat in the European theater of operations in France and Germany. My father was an amateur photographer, and also wrote 22 pages of memoirs after he landed in France and include some chilling descriptions with his first brushes with combat. . All I ask that that anything that is used is properly credited to Zeke Zederbaum and pls let me know, where and when, it will be used.
The 100th infantry arrived at Camp Kilmer around September 30, 1944. Late in the afternoon of October 5 the entire division comprising 762 officers, 44 warrant officers and 13,189 enlisted men began the Exodus from camp Kilmer. They travelled to Jersey city and boarded four ships, they weathered a hurricane at sea and spent 12 days en route before landing in Marseille, France.
Some Highlights of the 100th Infantry Division
Tore through deeply-entrenched German resistance in the craggy High Vosges Mountains in two weeks of savage fighting.
Practically destroyed the brand-new, full-strength German 708th Volks-Grenadier Division in the process of penetrating the Vosges Mountains by assault for the first time in history Since the 1st century BC, Romans, Huns, Burgundians, Swedes, Austrians, Bavarians, Germans and even French forces had tried and failed, but in the late autumn of 1944, in the face of nearly constant rain, snow, ice and mud, the US Seventh Army did what no other army had ever done before. For its success in ripping the Germans out of their trenches on the formidable heights overlooking Raon L'Etape, the 1st Battalion, 399th Infantry Regiment was awarded the Division's first Presidential Unit Citation, the collective equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross for individual valor. Lieutenant Edward Silk, of the 2d Battalion, 398th, won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the rout of the German forces.
Pursued elements of the German 1st Army through the Low Vosges to the Maginot Line.
Overcame stiff resistance by the 361st Volks-Grenadier Division at Mouterhouse and Lemberg and advanced on the Maginot Line. (3/399th Infantry won a Presidential Unit Citation for its assault of Lemberg.) Attacking into the Maginot, elements of the Division seized Fort Schiesseck, one of the Maginot forts attacked by the Germans in 1940, from the same direction, i.e. the south. In 1940, the German 257th Infantry Division failed to take Schiesseck, whose French garrison only surrendered a week after the rest of the French Army. In December of 1944, the 100th Infantry Division took the 14-story deep fortress, replete with disappearing gun turrets and 12-foot thick steel-reinforced concrete walls, in a four-day assault, 17 - 20 December 1944.
Defeated the combined attacks of two German divisions, which were strongly supported by tanks, super-heavy tank destroyers, artillery and rockets, in early January 1945, during the last German offensive in the West, Operation NORDWIND.
Highlighted the Seventh Army's drive into Germany in March, 1945 with the seizure of the Bitche, a heavily-fortified town in the Low Vosges Mountains.
Since the erection of the enormous sandstone citadel there in the early 1700s, the town had been continuously fortified with concentric rings of outworks, including several major Maginot forts, dozens of concrete pillboxes, and thickets of barbed wire and minefields. Although it had been invested several times, most notably in the Franco-Prussian War and in the 1940 campaign, Bitche had never fallen. From this point on, after the 3d Battalion, 398th Infantry won a Presidential Unit Citation there, the entire Division became known as "The Sons of Bitche."
Fought one of the last major battles of World War II in Europe with the assault river crossing of the Neckar River at Heilbronn, 3 - 12 April 1945.
In all, in 185 days of uninterrupted ground combat, out of an authorized strength of 13,688 officers and enlisted men, the 100th Infantry Division sustained 916 killed in action, 3,656 wounded in action, and lost 180 men missing in action. The overwhelming majority of these were sustained by the three infantry regiments, which together were authorized 9,771 men; in other words, considering that the infantry units were rarely maintained above 80% strength, about 50% of all the infantrymen in the Division became casualties in the course of achieving the Division's magnificent record. In liberating or capturing over 400 cities, towns and villages, they defeated major elements of eight German divisions. In this process, the men of the 100th inflicted untold casualties on the enemy, the only calculable number of which is the 13,351 enemy prisoners taken.
In return, in addition to the Presidential Unit Citations and Medals of Honor listed above, the soldiers of the 100th Infantry Division earned 36 Distinguished Service Crosses and over 500 Silver Stars for valor in combat. To preserve the esprit de corps and fellowship forged in their grueling training and six months of bitter combat, the men of the Division formed the Association of 100th Infantry Division in 1946, and have held annual reunions ever since.
Hope you find this helpful
All the Best, Scott
Scott B . Zederbaum”
Here are the pics that Scott sent – picture credit goes to Herman (Zeke) Zederbaum.
The word “hero” is often thrown about rather easily nowadays, but to me Herman (Zeke) Zedarbaum and his fellow soldiers were TRUE heroes.
Next, a little bit about the camera - a 1937 Voigtlander Bessa. It’s a medium format folding camera that shoots 120 roll film, and has tripod mounts for both portrait and landscape orientation. Shutter speeds range from B to 1/250th, and the lens has an f/stop range of 4.5 to 22. That’s about it for features – no TTL, no coupled viewfinder, no A-priority modes. To line up the shot you either look thru a (now fogged) prism cube near the front of the bellows, or you pop up the square composing attachment to roughly line up the shot. Focusing is based on distance from the subject, with the distance ranging from about 3 feet to infinity depending on where you set it. It shoots in 6x9 or 6x4.5 format - depending on if you have the 6x4.5 mask on the inside. This gives you either 8 shots or 15 shots per roll, respectively.
This particular camera really shows its age. From the very worn leather case, to the worn and missing leatherette covering, to the repaired bellows – you just know its seen a lot and was well used. The life a camera should live.
Surprisingly, it needed little work on my end to make it operational again. Not many 82-year-old things can claim that. Inspection of the bellows and the ancient tape repair showed no light leaks. After a cleaning of the lens and some light lubrication, all of the shutter speeds seemed to check out and it fired as it should. It took me awhile to figure out how to make the zone focusing work but once I had that down I felt like I could get out there with it and shoot it.
My plan was to use the camera over Memorial Day 2019 weekend to shoot some of the various Memorial Day gatherings in and around my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I thought that would be a very fitting test of the camera. I had an old roll of Tri-X 400 B&W ready to go and planned on developing it in Rodinal – all in keeping with the period of the camera.
Unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes – family came in from out of town, some plans changed, and I didn’t get a chance to shoot it over the long weekend.
The fact that my plans had to change that weekend was really trivial, at best. Because on the evening of Memorial Day 2019, the Dayton, Ohio area was hit with (at least) 14 tornadoes – ranging in magnitude from EF-0 to EF-4. Some areas of Dayton were completely devastated. Many plans were changed that evening.
Luckily for me, I live south of town, so the nearest tornado passed about 6 miles to the north of my suburb. Images and video of the affected areas on the news was shocking and troubling. Early responders and disaster teams were deployed immediately and general public in the non-affected areas was instructed that the best thing they could do was check on their neighbors, and give to local relief efforts and charities. So that’s what I did.
A week passed and I found myself heading to a local reserve to so some more wildlife shooting, and I knew that on the way there I would skirt some of the affected area. By this time the rescue efforts were over and things were in the clean-up phase. In addition to my wildlife photo gear, I threw the Bessa in the truck, then stopped by the local grocery to buy food and water. I dropped supplies off to two local shelters – then drove thru the area in NorthWest Dayton near the intersection of Shoup Mill Road and Route 48. I stopped to shoot a few images with the Bessa.
I forgot to bring my light meter with me, so I just used the Sunny 16 rule to guess at exposure and added 2-stops extra to compensate for the older expired film stock. I set it once and left it thru all of the shots. I was also so taken back by the damage in an area that I once lived, that I just set the focal distance to near infinity and left it there.
When I arrived home later in the day I developed the images in Rodinal and scanned them in. They were surprisingly sharper than I thought. The only work I did to them was some slight exposure work, dust cleaning, and cropping in Photoshop. I thought the camera was going to be difficult to shoot with at first, but when I was there in the moment the set-it-and-leave-it method seemed to work OK. I would imagine this is how many of these early Bessas were shot, especially in times of war and conflict. Where possible I’ve included a recent Google image of that area. I only managed to take 6 out of 8 shots – I accidentally rolled the film past two shots while not watching for the number in the red window closely.
Its hard to have a conclusion for this story, especially given that this isn’t exactly what I set out to write, and for those that were affected by the storms there won’t be a conclusion for them for a very long time.
I do plan to take the camera out to the National Museum of the US Air Force sometime soon to shoot some more images there. More on that in the future.
I want to thank Scott for sending me the camera, and the info. And special thanks to his father, the late Herman (Zeke) Zederbaum, and all of the men and women who served their country.
And lastly, thanks to all of the first responders who came to the aid of Dayton after the Memorial Day 2019 tornadoes.
If you’d like to contribute to the tornado relief effort, please go to: https://www.daytonfoundation.org/DisasterRelief.html?fbclid=IwAR2YnGgerIb14_W8Kaq1S2OBuUngTwKDdjRrp-kVcBdVBOnpVH0zVoxAr8A
Thanks for reading,