Jean Kahn was only ten years old when France capitulated to Nazi Germany in 1940. He was the youngest member of his family to endure the trials and tribulations of the Occupation. In his interview, Jean recounts the daring escape he, his mother, and elder brother, Pierre, made across the Pyrenees mountains into neutral Spain in October 1943. They were among the some 30,000 Jews from France who made this difficult journey during the war years. They went without a guide and like most other Jewish escapees arranged their trip independently, without the aid of a rescue organization.
The Kahns were fortunate in their timing, because after the German occupation of southern France on November 11, 1942 (following the Allied landings in North Africa several days earlier), the Spanish expelled few refugees who managed successful border crossings. By the fall of 1943, when the Kahns crossed into Spain, it was obvious that the Germans were losing the war, and the Allies had put pressure on Spain earlier that year not to turn away refugees who had crossed the Spanish border—provided that they would leave the country for another destination without delay. One estimate is that between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944, some 7,500 Jews found temporary refuge in Spain.
This interview is part of a group of interviews with the eminent Kahn family and their chauffeur taken in Paris on August 21, 1946 during an evening at the home of Admiral Louis Kahn. The interviews were conducted in the following order: Abraham Schramack (Mrs. Kahn's father), Jean Kahn (the family's younger son) Anne Marcelle Kahn, and her husband, Admiral Kahn. These are followed by an interview with the family's chauffeur, Charles Jean, who during the German occupation was in the French resistance. The Kahns were among the approximately 150,000 French Jews who had deep roots in France. (Another 200,000 Jews in France during the Holocaust were more recent immigrants.) Despite their long-standing residence in France, the Kahn family lived a precarious existence during the Occupation. Due to his service in the French navy, Admiral Kahn was separated from his family at the start of the war and was not in France during the war years.