Ellen Kahn is the daughter of Walter and Erna Herz, who were conservative Jews. She has an older sister Margaret. Although born in Krefeld she lived most of her early life in a suburb of Berlin and in Berlin, where she attended public school until expelled because of her Jewish religion. After the expulsion she attended the GOLDSCHMIDT SCHULE a very prestigious, excellent, private Jewish school. Her father was the importer and representative for high style dress fabrics and they lived a comfortable life. Her childhood friends were both Jewish and non-Jewish until her expulsion from public school, after which non-Jewish contacts were no longer allowed. She described her childhood as pleasant, with an emphasis by her parents on happiness.
Mrs. Kahn’s mother was quite religious resulting in both Mrs. Kahn and her sister getting thorough Jewish instructions and regular attendance at their synagogue. After the synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht religious services were continued at home.
Mrs. Kahn’s father visited the United States in 1936 and was advised by family members not to return to Germany. However, he felt that the Nazi rule in Germany would not last long and also that he was somewhat protected due to his service in the German Army during WWI as a non-commissioned officer. He was warned in advance of the mass arrest of Jews during Kristallnacht and avoided being arrested by leaving his home and moving from one friend to another. Kristallnacht changed his views about remaining in Germany and he began efforts for emigration.
Mrs. Kahn was accepted on the Kindertransport, the rescue operation of children under age 18, and was sent to England to live with foster parents who were recommended by friends of friends. This non-Jewish family, who had an adopted girl, treated her very well. They lived in London until the evacuation of children after the start of WWII, due to the expected bombings, when they moved to the country. Mrs. Kahn’s sister had preceded her on the Kindertransport to England a week earlier and lived with another family nearby. Both attended public schools and learned English very quickly.
Mrs. Kahn’s parents were able to emigrate from Germany and arrived in England one week before the start of WWII. Through family members in the United States, who had political connections, they obtained visas for the United States and the entire family left England in Feb. 1940. They traveled on a Canadian freighter in a convoy, in very rough seas for three weeks arriving in Halifax, Canada. From there they came to Boston, arriving in March, 1940.
After a short stay in New York they decided to come to Detroit, Michigan, where relatives of Mrs. Kahn’s mother born Erna Putzel, lived. These relatives included Henry Butzel, Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Fred Butzel, a noted philanthropist. On the train to Detroit Mrs. Kahn’s father met a man with whom he set up a business in draperies and upholstering, Gross and Herz. After a short while her father went independent and developed Herz Interior Design Studio, which became a very prominent and successful business.
Mrs. Kahn attended Wayne State University where she majored in Social Science. She worked for a while in her father’s business. She married Bill Kahn, a mechanical engineer, nephew of the nationally renown architect Albert Kahn, and had three children, Petro, Robert, and Sandra, and now several grandchildren.
Mrs. Kahn has returned to Germany several times on visits and, in general, was well received. She stated that those visits were a pleasant experience.
Interview and synopsis by: Hans R. Weinmann
Date of Interview: Nov. 19, 2008
Length of Interview: 1 hr. 7 min.