Kahn Family


Gertrude Wolff Kahn Gertrude Wolff Kahn was born in 1925 in Neustadt, in the German Palatinate. Her parents owned a business, supplying iron materials for the building trade. When the Nazis came to power the Wolffs were boycotted by all their former customers. As life in Neustadt became more difficult, her parents sent Gertrude to a Jewish boarding school in Berlin, and her sister to a similar school in Switzerland. During Kristallnacht in 1938, her father was severely injured. Shortly after this Gertrude was put on one of the Kindertransports to England where she lived through the London Blitz. Her parents eventually escaped and the family was reunited in America. Gertrude is the wife of Robert Kahn, also a survivor.

Neustadt an der Haardt is a small city in the Palatinate region, located at the mouth of the Speyerbach river. Its picturesque location attracts tourists, and before the war it was a rail junction center. It is the center of the Pfalz wine region and each year celebrates the national Deutsche Weinlesefest.

Kristallnacht – November 9/10, 1938 – was the real turning point in the history of the Holocaust. Persecution of Jews had been indirect and mostly nonviolent until then. But early in November, a Jewish student assassinated a Nazi diplomat in Paris. This event was the excuse for turning loose the Nazi SS and their sympathizers on the Jews of Germany. That night, all over the country, Jewish homes and shops were looted and synagogues were burned. The window glass that littered the streets in Jewish neighborhoods gave rise to the expression “Night of Broken Glass”. The shape of the plexiglass panels on our exhibit recalls that horror. After Kristallnacht many Jews realized that the government was out to destroy them, and thousands fled the country. Many others were unable to escape before the war broke out ten months later. About 150,000 of Germany’s 500,000 Jews managed to escape.


Joseph and Martha Kahn

Joseph, father of Robert Kahn, is shown in the exhibit wearing a German soldier’s uniform from World War I. Ironically, he was decorated for bravery by Adolf Hitler in 1934. His medal is also part of the exhibit. In November 1938, the Kahns were evicted from their Mannheim apartment and Joseph was severely beaten. Soon afterward he was taken to Dachau but escaped by signing over his business and property to an SS guard. The family travelled to the United States, where Joseph worked as a shipping clerk, and his wife Martha worked as a seamstress in a factory. Their son Robert was in the U.S. Army. After the war they were also reunited with their daughter Irene, who had been hidden in France by a priest (also pictured on the display) throughout the war.


Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn grew up in Mannheim, Germany. Because of increasing discrimination in the 1930s, he was forced out of most childhood activities but took violin lessons at home and learned metalworking in a Jewish trade school. In November 1938, his school and synagogue were burned. When he came home, he saw his father being beaten and mother tied up. The Nazis burned their furniture. As Nazi stormtroopers looted the apartment, they forced him to play his violin for a watching, jeering crowd. This violin is now part of the “Prejudice and Memory” exhibit. The Kahns fled to Luxembourg but again came under Nazi control when the Low Countries were occupied in 1940. Robert was able to escape through France and Spain to the Canary Islands and then went to the United States where he was reunited with his parents. He fought with the U.S. Army in the Pacific theatre and later attended the University of Oklahoma. In 1946 he joined the Intelligence Section at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he received awards and remained until retirement. He lives in Dayton with his wife Gertrude and has three children and seven grandchildren.

Mannheim is a medium-sized city in northern Baden-Württemburg at the confluence of the Rhine and the Neckar rivers. It dates back to at least the eighth century and has a famous ‘old town’ area called the Quadraten. Laid out in a grid pattern, the squares are identified by the letters of the alphabet. Because it was a rail and industrial center more than half the town was leveled by Allied bombers near the end of World War II. The Kahns’ apartment house no longer stands.


Irene Kahn Poll

Irene Kahn Poll, born in Mannheim in 1922, remembers being called a “dirty Jew” and watching her brother Robert being beaten by a Nazi teacher in front of his classmates. In 1935, as her family was persecuted and their business ruined, she was sent to Lille, France to attend school. She was briefly reunited with her family in Luxembourg in 1939, but lost track of them during the war. In 1942, hiding her Jewish identity, she worked for a time as a governess near Orléans but then returned to Lille where she was hidden by Abbé Raymond Vancourt until the liberation in France in 1944. Later she again found her family in America.