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Strangers Among Us
A trip leaves one survivor mystified about his feelings
ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM ASSOCIATE EDITOR
The Kahans had six children. bels, then took me in a taxi to
avid Kahan is a man who
was abused in the most The first to die was David's eldest Grand Central Station," he re-
horrendous way and is brother, a rabbi. He was taken to members.
He went first to Minneapolis,
now in the unusual posi- a labor camp in Hungary where
tion of wondering how he feels there was no kosher food. He where in three days he found a
job in a carpet store. Later, he
starved within a few months.
about the enemy.
worked as a shipping
The enemy is Germany
clerk and unloading
— if not Nazis themselves
railroad cars. Finally,
then the children of Nazis,
went to Detroit at
or the children of Nazi
the encouragement of
sympathizers, or the chil-
friends in the city.
dren of those who knew
Anxious to succeed
Jews were being mur-
"I never wanted my
dered and stood by silent-
family to go hungry"
he worked non-stop at
Yet these same people
a factory in Royal Oak.
were hospitable, friendly,
he took another
job and saved every
Mr. Kahan, today of
penny. He didn't take a
Bloomfield Hills, is a sur-
vacation for seven
vivor of Auschwitz. Sev-
eral months ago he went
He bought a home in
back to Germany on a trip
Berkley because "I
for Holocaust survivors.
didn't believe in paying
`They would have done
rent. I wanted to own
anything for us," he says
of his hosts. "And I invit-
moved to Oak Park to
ed them to my home.
be in a more Jewish
"But do they deserve
this from us? Is it-right for
In 1959, a friend en-
me to have a German in
couraged Mr. Kahan to
my house? Are these peo-
take a job at his real-es-
ple who would have be-
tate firm. "He told me I
haved any differently
would be a good sales-
(than the majority of Ger-
mans) during World War
Today, Mr. Kahan is
II? I doubt it."
head of Premier Realty,
David Kahan was born
a Troy-based, family
in 1928 in Romania-Tran- David Kahan with his wife at the new Seeshaupt Holocaust
business involved in
sylvania, the son of a He- memorial: "Are you allowed to like the Germans?"
brew teacher and a
Ever since the war, David Ka-
Most everyone else went to
mother was a native of Czecho-
slovakia who met her husband Auschwitz. David and one broth- han, who has never hesitated to
when her father "picked out the er (who spent the war in a labor express his views while speaking
nicest, best-looking boy at the camp and now lives in Israel) sur- in schools or before groups, has
yeshiva and said, 'You're going to vived. The rest — David's par- had one view of Germans: "They
ents, siblings and some 100 other were all murderers, killers. I felt
As a child, David remembers family members — were mur- nothing but contempt for them.
"Yes, I knew all about the 'new
"slight anti-Semitism (in Roma- dered.
I knew they had giv-
nia), but nothing terrible." Then
the Hungarians, with the Nazis' that's where all your family has en us a lot in reparations, but I
blessing, took over half the coun- gone," he says. " But you're young never said a good word about
try. "Right away, a cloud of dark- and you have to be strong,' an- them."
Ten years ago, Mr. Kahan
other inmate told me. 'You have
ness descended on us."
In 1944, several days after Pe- to survive to live to tell what has went back, briefly, to Germany.
"It was traumatic," he says.
sach, a policeman arrived at the happened."
From Auschwitz, David was "Every German I saw looked like
Kahans' front door. They and the
rest of the town's Jews were told taken to Muhldorf, a labor camp a camp guard, like a killer. I was
to bring one suitcase each and where he helped construct an air- there for two days and I couldn't
plane factory. He watched, get out fast enough."
meet at the public school.
Then last year, Mr. Kahan,
The Kahans didn't have much painfully, as "my comrades were
with 20 other survivors, re-
so there was little to pack — some
After the war, in May 1949, ceived an invitation to Seeshaupt,
clothes and food, a few linens,
soap and a toothbrush. David's David Kahan came to the Unit- Germany. It was part of a memo-
father took his tallis and tefillin. ed States. He was 19 years old, rial program directed at former
"At this point," Mr. Kahan and all he had with him was a Mulhdorf prisoners who had been
liberated by Americans in See-
says, "we still had no idea of the shaving kit.
He was met by HIAS workers shaupt. The inmates were aboard
fate that was to befall us."
They were sent first to a ghet- in New York. "They gave me $5 a train at the time, taken out to
and pointed out Macy's and Gim- be shot.
to. Then the transports started.