by Joseph H. RADDER
At a Monday Quarterback Club meeting not long ago, Buffalo
Bills owner Ralph Wilson pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket to bet Hugo Kahn that
he, Wilson, was older than Kahn. When Hugo produced proof that he was born in 1915, Ralph
gladly parted with his five. "I called him the next day," Hugo remembers,
"to thank him and tell him that the Food Bank was now $5 richer."
A recent visitor to his Food Bank office asked him how he stays so young, both physically and mentally. "It's easy," he answered without hesitation, "just stay busy."
And that he does, and has done, as the Food Bank's Public Relations Advisor, every day since 1983.
In fact, the Buffalo Bills' annual Fan Food Drive is one of Hugo's pet projects. He is also responsible for the coordination of community tours, speaking engagements, donor receptions, and other major campaigns like the Buffalo News Summer Harvest..
Hugo Kahn was born 89 years ago in Horhausen, Germany, a small town in the Rhineland near Bonn.
His mother, Klara Bock Kahn, and his father, Salomon Kahn, a World War I veteran, were both victims of the Holocaust, two of the 141,500 Jews killed in Germany, and the almost 6 million killed in the 22 countries under Nazi control.
His own childhood memories in Horhausen are happy ones. "There was no anti-Semitism then," he said.
By the time Hitler came into power in 1933, Hugo had moved to Mannheim to begin an apprenticeship with a dealer in hardware and building supplies. It was here that he first experienced the strong anti-Semitism that would eventually force him to leave Germany. In fact, two of his co-workers at the hardware store were Nazi Brownshirts. By 1934, Kahn felt his freedom slipping away. By this time, one had to be Aryan to be considered a German citizen. Even though his family had been in Germany for four generations, they were now considered undesirable outsiders.
After a vacation in the Black Forest, Hugo decided to leave Germany. Unable to persuade his parents to go with him, he sailed for America in April 1936. His older sister followed him later .His father died in Auschwitz and his mother died in Theresienstadt. He was never able to find out what happened to his younger sister.
"I have lived with that," he said "but that's over. I don't fight it anymore."
Before entering the service in 1942, Kahn worked for six years for Ruslander and Sons Inc., manufacturers of kitchen equipment.
Anxious to "get even" with the Nazis, Hugo Kahn joined the United States Air Force and fought against the Nazis in World War II. His ability to speak both German and English fluently, served him well in the Air Force and he soon earned the rank of Staff Sergeant as a section chief and linguist in Intelligence.
When he was discharged in 1945, E.L. Kelley Jr., Major in the Ninth Air Force, wrote "Staff Sergeant Kahn has been an asset to this section, the organization, and the Ninth Air Force. His knowledge of German customs, the people, the terrain, and his personal habits have given to this unit and command untold assistance in the prosecution (sic) of the American war effort."
Intelligence Captain, Cecil D. Jones, wrote, "You have been conscientious in your endeavors, loyal in your devotion to duty, and understanding my desires in guiding the Section. We could not have maintained such a high state of efficiency without your perseverance in the work."
Hugo Kahn was honorably discharged from the Army of the United States in January 1946.
He and Ann Cohen were married in Miami Beach in 1942. They have one daughter and three grandchildren.
His first job after the war was with Fashion Clothes in Jamestown. In 1956, the Kahns moved to Buffalo and he went to work at Sattler's, first in women's clothing, later in men's wear. As it turned out, he would stay at Sattler's for 18 years, retiring in 1979.
In these past twenty-one years, Hugo Kahn has had what might be considered his third career, at the Food Bank of Western New York. Clearly, he is loved and respected by his co-workers there. .
"People ask me why I want to stay here in the wintertime," he said. It's apparent that his answer is he'd rather be cold and busy for a few months a year than warm and idle.
Indeed, keeping busy has kept Hugo Kahn young. It has made him a real asset to this region for over 60 years
Like Ralph C. Wilson Jr., we found it hard to believe that Hugo Kahn is 89 years young. I daresay many people, even those close to him, will be surprised to learn that too.
He's proud of his age, and well he should be, for Hugo Kahn has accomplished a great deal over those years. It's clear that "the best is yet to come."
Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit www.1stbooks.com
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