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Rachel Kahan

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
Spring 1951
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Rachel Kahan was born in Ujfeherto, Hungary to Orthodox Hungarian parents. She was the second of 3 girls. Her father was a feather merchant. Rachel attended the Jewish school and then went on to learn sewing. She also helped her father in the business. They had a normal happy family life. They did not mix with the non-Jews. She felt the antisemitism around her. Life continued normally until the Germans arrived. The night after Pesach they were rounded up and taken to the ghetto in Nyiregyhaza. They were there for about 4-6 weeks and then they were transported to Auschwitz. After the selection in which her parents and younger sister went to their deaths, Rachel and her sister Chaye were sent to Plaszow near Krakow to work in a factory mending military uniforms. They were then sent back to Auschwitz and then sent onto St Georgenthal near Dresden where they worked in an aircraft factory. They were liberated by the Russian army.

 

They returned to their hometown but found no-one alive. Rachel was ill with TB and she entered a Sanatorium in Debrecen. Whilst there her sister got married and went to live in Gauting near Munich. She sent for Rachel and brought her to a Sanatorium there. Then her sister and her husband went to Israel. Rachel was taken to a Sanatorium in Switzerland and in 1950 a new medication for the treatment of TB was introduced. Rachel met her husband, Myer Kahan from Rumania, in the Sanatorium and they married in 1951. Bachad in Zurich arranged for them to come to England to Thackstead Hachsharah in the Spring of 1951. Myer worked with the poultry and then in the office and Rachel was in charge of the laundry. They lived there for 3 years and then Myer was offered a position as a shomer with the Manchester Beth Din. They came to live in the Bnai Akivah Bayit. Myer worked as a Mashgiach for 3 years and went to College to study Accountancy. During this time the couple took a group to Israel to see if they wanted to settle there but decided against going. They moved from the Bayit in Cavendish Road and Myer worked as a Certified Accountant. 

In little villages there was plenty of food from the fields. So to make a bit of money a lot of people filled up a suitcase with food and we went to Budapest, and we sold the food for whatever they gave and that was a bit of an income. And it’s a black market in a way. In those days you want some food- and they improvised.

My uncle in Téglás had a beautiful winery. And he had an orchard with fruit. We had a horse and cart and went to take all the grapes and put it in the pressure. And he had a cellar and we put all the wine there. In the summer - it was fantastic.

[On the effects of her war-time experiences] I just take it as a fact. It just happened. That era was…whoever lived there, you always have a… not a burden – a complex about it. I mean, I don’t thrive on it and I don’t throw it about – just the opposite. But subconsciously I am aware of it. So not to be miserable with it but just, just sort of… aware of it.

After liberation – so what do you do? Where do you go? How do you go? So we went to every station - railway station - wherever the train went we just climbed on it on top of the oil tanker. Doesn’t matter if it’s south or east or north, doesn’t matter. Got no idea, so we just went and then had to walk to the station. And my sister kept telling me ‘Come on. Come on!’ And I couldn’t, because I had TB – an active TB – which we didn’t know! Didn’t know (mimics being out of breath) because they were after us. Anyway, so eventually we arrived to Újfehértó after four weeks. I don’t know where we ate or where we slept. It’s just incredible, really. We arrived in Hungary, in Újfehértó - of course nothing there. Empty. A few youngsters came back and they already moved into their house and there was some food already. And my sister took me straight away to a doctor and I went to a sanatorium in Debrecen – a TB sanatorium.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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