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
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
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
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
NINTH AIR FORCE SERVICE COMMAND
APO 149 U.S. Army
1 June 1945
Mrs. Hugo Kahn
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.
E.L. Kelley Jr.
Major, Air Corps
Ninth Air Force
Related Resources for this Speaker:
Richter, Hans P. Puffin Books, 1987.
Uhlman, Fred. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1977.
The Camera of My Family: Four Generations in Germany, 1845-1945
Based on the book of the same name (Knopf, 1977.)
The Rise of the Nazis
A teacher's guide is also available.