Seymour Topping, former Times journalist and history eyewitness, dies at 98

He was born Seymour Topolsky on December 11, 1921 in Manhattan to Joseph and Anna Seidman Topolsky, Russian immigrants. His mother was seen killing his mother at the Cossack Pogrom in a Jewish village in Ukraine. His father, who left behind relatives killed in the Holocaust, multiplied the surname.

As a teenager, Seymour read Edgar Snow’s epic “Red Star Over China” and dreamed of being a foreign correspondent. After graduating from Avender Children’s High School in the Bronx in 1939, he attended the University of Missouri, the journalism school of which was the oldest in the country and good contacts in China.

He earned a degree in 1943, and enlisted in the military as a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps and became an infantry officer in the Philippines, where he was discharged in 1946. Through contacts in Manila, he was appointed by International. The news service and, for lack of experience, eagerly accepted an assignment for North China, covering the decades-old civil war that resumed with full fury after World War II.

After covering Chiang’s defeat in Manchuria by 1949 and joining The Epi, Mr. Topping advanced to the nationalist capital as communist forces in Nanking. He went to the front, crossed a man’s ground and was taken captive by communist guerrillas. He thus became the only Western reporter with the forces of Mao, where a decisive battle was fought.

The captives were taken to a field headquarters for miles to the battlefield due to shelling and were thrown with debris of corpses and American-made nationalist vehicles. At gunpoint, he was kept in a hut, where he listened to artillery all night.

In the morning, after the guns had calmed down, a “deputy commissioner” calling himself Wu came to the hut and returned Mr. Topping’s seized typewriter and camera. A military escort and horses were waiting to take him back, Wu told him.

“You know, I came here to tell my story,” Mr. Topping said.

“You can’t help us,” Wu said softly.

The nationalist forces in the area had surrendered. Will be taken to Nanking soon. The war was over.

Mr. Topping recalled the parting in his memoir, saying: “As I parked my horse, Wu came next to me, placed his hand on the saddle and said softly, speaking to me for the first time in English, ‘I Hope to see you again. Peaceful journey. Bye. ‘”

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