David P. Boder Interviews Marcelle Kahn; August 21, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] We have now at the microphone Mrs. Kahn, the wife of Admiral Kahn, in Paris, and she was present while her father and then her little son gave us the story, so clearly she would not exactly try to repeat it. We want to get some other moments. First of all, Mrs. Kahn, will you tell us in French what is your full name? And what education do you have?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] My name is Marcelle Schrameck, wife of Engineer General Louis Kahn. During the last war, I studied to be a mining engineer.That is, World War I. Mrs. Kahn entered a profession unusual for a woman at that time.1 And I worked in the Kuhlman chemical plants for a while before getting married. And since then, I worked a little with my husband, I was taking care of my children . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] In what kind of mines did you work?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] I worked around the Mining Engineering School in St. Etienne.As Abraham Schramack, Mrs. Kahn's father noted, St. Etienne was where the Kahn family resided.2 We often used to go down into the mines in the French mining centers. But my work since then, I . . . I was employed by the Kuhlman chemical plants.
  • David Boder: [In English] Now, will you be good enough to tell us, what happened to you after the Armistice was concluded?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] After the Armistice was signed, we . . . we left, my children and I, to the free zone where we didn't want to have contact with the Germans. And we lived in Marseille, until the Germans reopened the Armistice in November of '42.The Germans abrogated the armistice agreement of June 1940 by occupying the Vichy zone of France on November 11, 1942.3 My husband had already left for England. I was staying with my two sons in Marseille. And as soon as the Germans crossed the line, riots broke out in the Southern Zone. There were attacks in Marseille, as early as the month of December. The Germans had organized a Christmas tree [lighting] in one of the big hotels in Marseille, with the Consul . . . the German consuls. There was a bomb. It was on December 24th, Christmas Day.She means December 25.4 There was a bomb and the wife of the German Consul lost both of her legs. She died several days later, and there was an elaborate funeral. Traffic was stopped in all the streets of Marseille. And it was afterwards that there began to be acts of retaliation against the people of Marseille. Naturally, we all knew that the war wasn't over, that [the bomb] was only an act of war. But . . . from that time on, life became extremely difficult. People were stopped in the streets. Their papers were examined and if their papers were not in order, naturally they were arrested and deported.Beginning on January 22, 1943, German and French police arrested Jews in Marseille whether native-born or foreign. Since the relative immunity of native-born French Jews from arrest and deportation had ended, the Kahns were in grave danger.5
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: That's how one of my son's friends, a sixteen year old boy, was arrested while coming out of the train station. His parents didn't have any news of what happened to him and he returned maybe a year later, by escaping from a train car that was taking him to Germany. He escaped by pulling up a plank in the floor of the car . . . but a friend who was following him lost his legs during [their escape?] From that time on, I tried to leave Marseille. But my . . . determination . . . I was only definitively resolved to leave when the Old . . . when the Germans destroyed the Vieux Port. The Germans claimed that . . . "terrorists", as they called them, were hiding in the Vieux Port.Between January 22 and January 27, 1943, more than 10,000 French police and several thousand German police engaged in the operation to destroy the Vieux Port, the old central harbor and market section of Marseille. This operation displaced 22,000 people and completely demolished this section of the city. Like other German undertakings, this illustrated the ruthlessness and brutality of the Occupation.6 They tried to blow up those old neighborhoods, which were obviously full of little winding streets and . . . pieces of land where . . . that [the Germans] greatly dreaded [they couldn't control]. There . . . it wasn't . . . we . . . one day . . . we were not told what they were plotting. And then one day, while going into central Marseille, we lived on a street . . . rather distant from the Vieux Port . . . while going into central Marseille, we heard the alarm go off. We saw people hastily leaving their homes with their meager baggage, or some were carrying sick children, and were throwing whatever they could onto pushcarts . . . and were still arrested and I only learned recently that five thousand people out of the thirty or forty thousand who had only fifteen minutes to evacuate their homes . . . five thousand of these people were taken and deported to Germany. On that day, we saw arrests, they were putting people . . . we saw people being loaded in paddy wagons. We saw these poor women holding out their arms and trying to hang on to the bars. Seeing these things tore my heart apart, thinking of what could obviously happen to my children. I had only one thing on my mind: to leave Marseille.During these January days, some 6,000 people were arrested in Marseille. Though half were released, the rest were imprisoned in Marseille and deported to the detention center at Compiègne, from where many were sent "to the East" for extermination. Not one of the 800 Jews deported from Marseille to Compiègne on January 24, 1943 ever returned.7
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: So we went in the Alps near Grenoble.Grenoble, located in southeastern Alpine France about 64 miles southeast of Lyon, was at the time in the Italian-occupied zone of France. Thousands of Jews in France sought refuge in the benevolently-ruled Italian zone. In September 1943 when Italy capitulated and joined the Allies, the immunity of Jews in this zone evaporated.8 My children were in boarding school in the mountains, and that was when . . . that was when I heard the message: "I've arrived" from my husband in England. In reality, it took him quite a while before he could get the message through. It was this message . . . his message to tell us that he was waiting for us.There is a discrepancy here between Mrs. Kahn's account and that of her son, Jean, who claimed that the family heard the message from Admiral Kahn in December 1942, while still in Marseille.9 After that, I started looking for a way to catch up with him. And I of course had a lot of acquaintances from way back. I was privileged, constantly warned by friends that they . . . while I was still in Marseille, and they had told me that on that evening my neighborhood was going to be searched, go spend the night at the home of some friends.Mrs. Kahn, a member of a respected and well-established French Jewish family, was indeed fortunate to have a number of friends and acquaintances who helped her. Many foreign Jews in France during the Occupation lacked these contacts, and thus they were more vulnerable to arrest and deportation.10 This happened to me several times. But naturally, this was extremely dangerous for these friends. And I am very . . . well, at that time, when I left Marseille, I preferred to have ID cards under another name. I had to . . . find someone to make new ID cards. It was rather difficult because the Resistance printed cards for workers and not for women and children, generally speaking. So it was very difficult to obtain food vouchers for women and children. And so I . . . I found I had the best reception from people from the Resistance whom I didn't know from Adam but simply sent "a word" [Translator's note: could mean "a note" or perhaps a "pass word"?]. In fact, I didn't even get the word from them, I was just given a name and an address, and that so-and-so knew me, I wasn't told the exact name. These people took me in, gave me the keys to their house, where I lived for eight to ten days, long enough to produce false ID cards for me. I didn't go out of the house because I didn't have an ID. I was afraid every second of being stopped in the street. But I stayed in their home for eight days, I stayed at their home for eight days, where I was fed, I . . . they gave me their best room and the keys. Once I had my false ID cards, I could travel.Mrs. Kahn's account once again highlights the importance of having well-forged identification papers which would allow their bearer to travel freely. It appears that before she and her children actually made the crossing into Spain she had traveled to Perpignan to find guides to take them across. This attempt was unsuccessful.11
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: I started out near Perpignan, where I had to find the guides that had helped my husband to cross, but unfortunately, they were all . . . most of them had been arrested and I couldn't find any trace of them. Finally I found others . . . When we talked about getting us out of the country . . . but each time I spoke of my youngest son who was . . . he was only ten at the time, they energetically opposed taking him, saying "this boy won't walk all the way, he won't be able to make it through the mountains, he'll get us caught, etc . . ."Jean was twelve or thirteen at the time, old enough to try to make the escape. However, Mrs. Kahn's father was in his seventies and would not have been physically capable of undertaking the difficult journey. This is why she speaks about trying to save her children and not her father.12 Finally, I put . . . I had contacts with quite a few really courageous people who really tried to talk me out of it, told me not to go, you'll be protected . . . that's something I didn't want to do. We wanted to leave to find my husband and to fight . . . fight with our country, stay in contact with our country.Mrs. Kahn considered her country at the time was more truly represented by the Free French forces of General De Gaulle with which her husband was fighting.13 And it was . . . um, one year later, only around the month of October 1943, that we decided, despite all the difficulties, to cross the border alone. With the . . . energy of my eldest son who prepared everything, he chose our itinerary carefully, using a compass which was an extremely difficult instrument to find at that time. We had found a bunch of Boy Scout compasses that were all more or less usable. We tried out a great many of them before finding one that truly pointed North. We had an enormous amount of trouble to also find road maps, of course, which is . . . we were . . . everyone believed they were being watched, followed, when we went to purchase a map of the Spanish border. He [my son] made these decisions with a lot of drive, which were even more remarkable coming from a boy who was fifteen at the time. And who had never had any real physical training, and it was he who guided us, dragged us along, pushed us through the mountains and never got us lost, using only a compass and the map that we didn't dare take out because of the bad weather. We were always on the right path. And we could say that we crossed the border with probably fewer incidents than if we had gone with a professional smuggler. We took a route that was probably easier, more accessible. And we were courageous possibly because we were oblivious.What Mrs. Kahn possibly means here is that they were oblivious to the difficulties they would encounter on the trip.14 And we crossed the Pyrenees from Perpignan to Casa [Casablanca] in nine days. We arrived from Perpignan to Casa in nine days, with three days of imprisonment in Spain. Which was . . . [unintelligible] in Casablanca.
  • David Boder: [In English] [break in sound] How did you get out of prison? Did they give you free passage to Casablanca? [unintelligible]
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Uh, we were, we were taken into a convoy of French. They were evacuating the French. Of course, we didn't stay in prison long because we weren't soldiers. A woman and children under 17 were not considered a significant arrest for the Spanish. The men spent a long time in concentration camps that we hadn't experienced.
  • David Boder: [In English] How old was your oldest boy then?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: My oldest boy . . . . Pierre?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Yes, my oldest son was fifteen and a half. And I should add that on all the false ID cards, I subtracted a year from his age to be more secure. And even the papers that the Spanish took, we did the papers in French and Spanish. He was fourteen on the papers we had done in Spanish and that was how we were guaranteed that we were not soldiers.
  • David Boder: [In English] [unintelligible] Well, Madame Kahn, can you tell me then, how long were you crossing the Pyrenees? How long did it take you?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Well, only two days. We walked five hours the first day and six or seven the second day.
  • David Boder: [In English] And did you have things with you?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] We had absolutely nothing with us. We didn't have hats, we tried to look like hikers so that we wouldn't draw attention to ourselves. And in crossing the mountains, we ripped up our shoes which weren't very sturdy, and our clothes. In Spain, we were obviously recognized very quickly as illegal travelers. We were in rags, we had nothing to eat. We stopped at some farms where they were very nice and gave us some milk.These and other small acts of kindness were instrumental in helping the Kahns. It should not be forgotten that even during the years of the Holocaust, there were human beings who showed themselves capable of generous and humane behavior.15
  • David Boder: [In English] And did the children manage to come through well and came through all right?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] The boys arrived in very good shape. [Boder interrupts.] Of course, when we arrived, it happened that . . . We had the pleasure of being served our first dinner to which we were treated by the Customs Officers, who paid for it with the money they took off of me.
  • David Boder: [In English] How many kilometers did you walk?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Well, we didn't know for sure. We didn't know for sure because we had a map for the French side of the border but the road maps didn't show anything beyond the border, which meant that we didn't know exactly which route we had taken in Spain. We probably did forty to fifty kilometers.
  • David Boder: [In English] Uh huh.
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Yes. Obviously much less than most of the guides made people travel.
  • David Boder: [In English] And were there a lot of Germans in Spain?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] In Spain, we didn't see any Germans, isn't that so?
  • David Boder: No Germans?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: No, we didn't see any. We saw Spanish police officers.
  • David Boder: [In English] Do you speak Spanish?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: No, not at all.
  • David Boder: But then on the border they spoke French with you.
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] No, no, they spoke Spanish. We had . . . as a matter of fact, the first day we were arrested, we were faced with a Spanish staff officer who tried to interrogate us. He was a General who asked me questions in Spanish and since I didn't understand, he gave up. For that reason, we were taken to our hotel for a night where we had to sleep under lock and key and the next day, they took us to Barcelona, where there were . . . where they spoke French.
  • David Boder: [In English] And when did you [both speaking at once] Where did you get the first notice from the Admiral? When did you hear from him?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Ah, on board the boat that took us from Spain to Morocco, we received . . . there was a . . . it was a convoy organized to collect the French. There was an officer who was in the navy, a Frenchman. I asked him if he had . . . if he know where Engineer Kahn, Chief Engineer Kahn was. He said he had seen him two evenings earlier in Algiers. It had been about eight months that I hadn't had any news from my husband.
  • David Boder: [In English] And how long were you in Africa before you returned to . . .
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Just one year in Africa. One year exactly. We arrived . . . . on October 22, 1943 in Casa [Casablanca] and I left Algiers for France on October 17, 1944.
  • David Boder: [In English] Well, how did you find Paris when you came back?
  • Anne Marcelle Kahn: [In French] Paris looked magnificent to me! But, I had never seen Paris under the Germans.Paris had been liberated on August 25, 1944, less than two months before Mrs. Kahn arrived.16
  • David Boder: [In English] Well, I thank you very much. How really good of you to let me spend the evening with you and to have these interesting reports from three generations. Now, I would like to have . . . [recording ends abruptly]
  1. That is, World War I. Mrs. Kahn entered a profession unusual for a woman at that time.
  2. As Abraham Schramack, Mrs. Kahn's father noted, St. Etienne was where the Kahn family resided.
  3. The Germans abrogated the armistice agreement of June 1940 by occupying the Vichy zone of France on November 11, 1942.
  4. She means December 25.
  5. Beginning on January 22, 1943, German and French police arrested Jews in Marseille whether native-born or foreign. Since the relative immunity of native-born French Jews from arrest and deportation had ended, the Kahns were in grave danger.
  6. Between January 22 and January 27, 1943, more than 10,000 French police and several thousand German police engaged in the operation to destroy the Vieux Port, the old central harbor and market section of Marseille. This operation displaced 22,000 people and completely demolished this section of the city. Like other German undertakings, this illustrated the ruthlessness and brutality of the Occupation.
  7. During these January days, some 6,000 people were arrested in Marseille. Though half were released, the rest were imprisoned in Marseille and deported to the detention center at Compiègne, from where many were sent "to the East" for extermination. Not one of the 800 Jews deported from Marseille to Compiègne on January 24, 1943 ever returned.
  8. Grenoble, located in southeastern Alpine France about 64 miles southeast of Lyon, was at the time in the Italian-occupied zone of France. Thousands of Jews in France sought refuge in the benevolently-ruled Italian zone. In September 1943 when Italy capitulated and joined the Allies, the immunity of Jews in this zone evaporated.
  9. There is a discrepancy here between Mrs. Kahn's account and that of her son, Jean, who claimed that the family heard the message from Admiral Kahn in December 1942, while still in Marseille.
  10. Mrs. Kahn, a member of a respected and well-established French Jewish family, was indeed fortunate to have a number of friends and acquaintances who helped her. Many foreign Jews in France during the Occupation lacked these contacts, and thus they were more vulnerable to arrest and deportation.
  11. Mrs. Kahn's account once again highlights the importance of having well-forged identification papers which would allow their bearer to travel freely. It appears that before she and her children actually made the crossing into Spain she had traveled to Perpignan to find guides to take them across. This attempt was unsuccessful.
  12. Jean was twelve or thirteen at the time, old enough to try to make the escape. However, Mrs. Kahn's father was in his seventies and would not have been physically capable of undertaking the difficult journey. This is why she speaks about trying to save her children and not her father.
  13. Mrs. Kahn considered her country at the time was more truly represented by the Free French forces of General De Gaulle with which her husband was fighting.
  14. What Mrs. Kahn possibly means here is that they were oblivious to the difficulties they would encounter on the trip.
  15. These and other small acts of kindness were instrumental in helping the Kahns. It should not be forgotten that even during the years of the Holocaust, there were human beings who showed themselves capable of generous and humane behavior.
  16. Paris had been liberated on August 25, 1944, less than two months before Mrs. Kahn arrived.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Deborah Joyce
  • English Translation : Deborah Joyce
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz