Born in Berlin to a German-Jewish button-factory owner and an American mother, Newton attended the Heinrich-von-Treitschke-Realgymnasium and the American School in Berlin. Interested in photography from the age of 12 when he purchased his first camera, he worked for the German photographer Yva (Elsie Neulander Simon) from 1936.
The increasingly oppressive restrictions placed on Jews by the Nuremberg laws meant that his father lost control of the factory in which he manufactured buttons and buckles; he was briefly interned in a concentration camp, 'Kristallnacht,' which on November 9, 1938, compelled the family to leave Germany. Newton's parents fled to Chile. He was issued with a passport just after turning 18, and left Germany on December 5, 1938. At Trieste he boarded the 'Conte Rosso' (along with about 200 others escaping the Nazis) intending to journey to China. After arriving in Singapore he decided to remain as a reporter for the Straits Times and worked as a portrait photographer.