Hermann Kahan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Herman Kahan (born Chaim Hersh Kahan in 1926) is a Romanian-born Norwegian businessman, rabbi,[1] author, and Holocaust survivor.

Early life[edit]

Kahan was born into an Hasidic[2] Jewish family in Sighet, Romania. Elie Wiesel was among his childhood friends.[1]

World War II and concentration camps[edit]

During World War II, when Northern Transylvania was administered by the Kingdom of Hungary (see Second Vienna Award), Kahan and two siblings were able to obtain "Aryan papers" in Budapest. After getting reports from his father in Sighet that Jews in the city were gathered into ghettos, he returned home to provide food.[1]

In 1944, Kahan was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp with his father, mother, and a sister. After arriving in the camp, his mother and sister were taken to the gas chambers, where they died. Kahan and his father were selected as workers. After a couple of weeks, they were transported to the Wolfsberg camp near Breslau, and later to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and Ebensee concentration camp. Kahan experienced torture in all three camps; his father was also tortured. At the end of his time at Ebensee, Kahan lost consciousness and was thrown into a pile of corpses.[3] American forces liberated the camp the same day, and while transporting the corpses to a mass grave, one of the American soldiers saw Kahan's hand move and pulled him out of the pile.[3] Kahan's father died 10 days after liberation.[3]


After the war Kahan moved to Paris and planned to go to the United States. He supported himself by selling knitwear he produced with knitting machines.[1]

In 1947, he traveled to Norway to visit his sister and her husband. He decided to stay and was granted permission to settle as part of the Jewish refugee quota established to replace the number of Norwegian Jews who died in the Holocaust.[1]

In Norway, he established the textile factory Stabekk trikotasje (now Heka trikotasje), and the business was expanded into other areas. He was active in the Jewish community in Oslo, serving as leader of the Mosaic congregation (Det Mosaiske Trossamfund) for a time, was an active supporter of the Jewish museum, and was a board member of the Friends association of Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities.[1]

His autobiography, Ilden og Lyset (English: The Fire and the Light), with a foreword by Elie Wiesel, was published in 1988 and published in English in 2006.[4]

He was named Commander of the Order of St. Olav in 2013 for his efforts to promote tolerance and understanding.[4]


Kahan married a Jewish woman he met in Norway. He has five adult children and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of his children is the actress and singer Bente Kahan.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Hjeltnes, Guri (24 February 2013). "Liv og levebrød: 'Du ble altså funnet i en likhaug'" [Life and Livelihood: 'So, you were found in piles of corpses']. Stavanger Aftenblad (in Norwegian). Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Grimsby, Liv (30 November 2012). "Bente Kahn: Growing up Jewish in Norway". Thanks to Scandinavia. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Guhnfeldt, Cato (27 January 2006). "Vitner om Holocaust" [Witnesses to the Holocaust]. Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Stanghelle, Harald (18 February 2013). "Toleransens fanebærer" [Tolerance Standard-Bearer]. Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 4 January 2014.