Hugo Kahn

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Hugo Kahn - Germany

 

Hugo Kahn - Mannheim, Germany - 1933

Hugo Kahn was born in 1915 in Horhausen, near Bonn, Germany. He had an older sister and a younger sister. The family moved to across the Rhine in 1926 to the mostly Catholic community of Heimersheim. Hugo says he experienced "very little" anti-Semitism growing up. He went to public school and even played in the Catholic soccer league with no significant problems. He thought of himself first as a German, and secondly of Jewish religion.

 

Hugo was 18 years old when Hitler came to power in 1933. He had moved to the city of Mannheim to begin his apprenticeship with a dealer of hardware and building supplies. This is when and where he experienced more anti-Semitism. Unemployment and inflation had gotten out of control, and Hitler was focusing resentment towards the Jews.

 

Hugo worked with several Nazi party members at the hardware store. Three were S.A. -- the Brownshirts, while one was college educated and belonged to the S.S. Hugo got along with all of them on a personal level, despite the fact he was not Aryan. At first all the S.S. ever seemed to do was march in parades.

 

Hugo spent a year outside of Mannheim as a journeyman. When he returned in 1934, he found things had changed. His Nazi co-workers were now practically running the place - even the owner had to check with them before he made a move. Hugo knew a woman athlete from Mannheim, one of the best in the country, who was of Jewish descent - but raised as Catholic. Suddenly she was barred from competition when her heritage was discovered. This woman, who had been bound to compete in the 1936 Olympics, now was a person without a country.

 

Hugo felt his freedom was slipping away. Now one had to be Aryan to be considered a German. His family had been in Germany for four generations were now considered undesirable outsiders. He took a vacation near Ulm in the Black Forest.

 

When he returned he had decided to leave Germany. It would be simplest to gain entrance to another country in Western Europe -- Belgium, France or Holland. Somehow Hugo knew that these places would not be far enough away to escape the Nazis. He had uncles that lived in the U.S. This seemed to be the best option. His father refused to consider the idea; he had served in the German army in World War I and considered himself a patriot. He told his son not to act rashly, and said "That crazy man [Hitler] won't live forever."

 

During the winter of 1935 there was a food shortage. In Mannheim the three professional soccer teams were forced to play each other with all the gate proceeds going to feed the starving.

 

The Nazis organized all citizens into groups that undermined the family unit. Husbands, wives and children all belonged to separate organizations that encouraged them to check the loyalty of their family members -- and it was expected that they would report on them for any disloyal words or actions. It was not unheard of for children to report their parents in spite over some minor family squabble.

 

Around this time they began to hear about the first concentration camps: Dachau, outside of Munich, and Buchenwald, near Dresden - where the Nazis sent communists, gypsies, and the handicapped. Jews were not yet being targeted for these camps, although they were also classified by law as being "undesirables".

 

The S.A. co-worker advised Hugo to get out of Germany before the Olympics. He knew that something was being planned for them after the world's attention was lifted from the Games. It turned out to be precious advice. The first crackdown on the Jews came after the Olympics, in Fall of 1936.

 

Hugo wrote to his family in the States, and also to a friend in South Africa, asking for help in gaining access to their respective countries. The reply from America arrived first, so it was there that Hugo determined to go.

 

A Nazi official watched as he packed his trunk. They made sure that nothing of any monetary value was being taken out of the country by those emigrating.

Hugo left Germany from the port of Bremerhauen, aboard the S.S. Washington, April 1936. Two weeks later he was in America. His older sister joined him a year later. His parents still refused to consider leaving until 1940. They couldn't obtain a visa until 1942, and by then America and Germany were at war. This finished their chances of coming over.

 

Hugo joined the Air Force and fought against the Nazis in World War II. He wanted to "get even" with the Nazis for what they had done to his country, and to his people. He was stationed in Germany for several months after the war as well.

 

It wasn't until 1994 that Hugo discovered what had become of his parents. His father was sent to Auschwitz and died there; his mother died in Theresianstadt. About his younger sister Ilse nothing is known.

 

Hugo came back with his children to Germany a few years ago, to show them the country of his parents. While he was there, he never asked anyone "why", of the Holocaust. He knows there is probably no answer good enough to explain it.

 

 

 

A letter of commendation from Mr. Kahn's commanding officer

 

NINTH AIR FORCE SERVICE COMMAND

APO 149 U.S. Army
1 June 1945
Mrs. Hugo Kahn
Fashion Clothes
Jamestown, NY
My Dear Mrs. Kahn:

 

For the past five months it has been my pleasure to have directed the Intelligence section in which your husband, Staff Sergeant Hugo Kahn, has been employed in the role of an Intelligence Specialist and Linguist. He has been transferred in the reorganization of this command and is assuming new duties in a unit in Germany.

 

The association has been a distinct pleasure and Staff Sergeant Kahn an asset to the section, the organization, and the Ninth Air Force. His knowledge of German customs, the people, the terrain and the personal habits has given to this unit and command untold assistance in the prosecution of the American war effort. His ability of grasping and controlling all situations he has been faced with leaves a lasting impression of resourcefulness and energy, plus a determination which will stand him in good stead in the future.

 

Like the many thousands of other foreign-born men in the American uniform, Sgt. Kahn is a solidly built and conceived American citizen, soldier, and hope of the democratic future. His record has been clean and impressive, at times brilliant. I am sure he will personify my personal ambitions for him and someday come home to you as you want him to.

 

Without such men as your husband the trail of victory forged by the American fighting man could not have been achieved. It has been a personal and professional pleasure to have served with him.

 

Sincerely,

 

E.L. Kelley Jr.

Major, Air Corps
Ninth Air Force

 

Related Resources for this Speaker:

Books

Freidrich

Richter, Hans P. Puffin Books, 1987.

Reunion

Uhlman, Fred. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1977.


Videos

The Camera of My Family: Four Generations in Germany, 1845-1945

18 minutes

Based on the book of the same name (Knopf, 1977.)

The Rise of the Nazis

20 minutes

A teacher's guide is also available.