Shares Holocaust Settlement
$65,000 richer overnight sounds like cause for celebration. It
wasn't quite that way for Rachel Kahn-Hut, a professor emerita at San
The money was Kahn-Hut's share of a $1.25 billion landmark settlement
between Swiss banks and Holocaust victims and survivors. Kahn-Hut's paternal
grandfather was a German Jew who stashed a small amount of money in two
Swiss bank accounts as the Nazis rose to power. In the late 1950s, her
father, Edgar Kahn-Hut, tried to retrieve the money to no avail.
Like thousands of other Nazi victims and their heirs, Kahn-Hut filed a
claim for restitution in the 1990s. But when the money finally arrived
this year, she was not entirely comfortable with it. "There was a
little bit of a feeling that this was benefiting from the Holocaust,"
So the retired sociologist figured out a course of action that worked
for her conscience as well as her pocketbook.
With $20,000, she set up the Generation to Generation Graduate School
Award at San Francisco State's Department of Sociology, where she taught
for three decades. Established in memory of her late mother, Caroline
Rosen, the award will help undergraduates and alumni with the costs of
applying to graduate school. With another $8,500, she created the Department
of Sociology Kahn-Hut Lecture Fund to bring speakers and educational events
to the department.
Kahn-Hut kept the rest for herself. She's remodeling the bathroom in her
Oakland home and enjoys having a little extra money in her pocket during
her frequent trips abroad.
But even today, long after the events in Europe that set in motion her
windfall, Kahn-Hut is still astonished at the way that world events and
her family history are intertwined.
In the early 1930s, Edgar Kahn-Hut, an engineer, left inflation-wracked
Germany to seek work in the Soviet Union. There he met and married Caroline,
a Russian Jew who had spent time in the United States. Their bliss was
short-lived; the Soviets arrested Edgar on suspicion of being a German
spy -- a charge for which he would be fully exonerated -- and expelled
Caroline, by then caring for 10-week-old Rachel.
Mother and daughter fled to Germany, where they remained for several months
at the home of Edgar's father, Daniel, a retired physician. Daniel confided
to Caroline that he had deposited money in Swiss bank accounts but said
he later withdrew the funds. "He said he was a good German and when
Hitler asked him to bring his money home to Germany, that's what he did,"
Kahn-Hut recalled her mother telling her.
With Edgar in a Soviet prison camp, Caroline took Rachel to the United
States, first to New York and Arizona and later Los Angeles. Though Caroline
was an experienced librarian, anti-semitism and the Red Scare made it
difficult for her to find work; Rachel was able to attend college only
with the help of scholarships. She graduated from Pomona College, going
on to earn a master's from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Brandeis. She saw
her father only twice; he remained in Russia, where he died in 1972.
In the 1990s, Jews began filing claims and class-action lawsuits to recover
money they had put away for safekeeping in Swiss banks in the 1930s. Like
Edgar, many account holders and heirs had tried to recover their assets
without success; bankers often demanded documents that were impossible
to obtain or had been lost during the war.
In 1998, after Swiss banks negotiated the $1.25 billion in restitution,
Kahn-Hut's curiosity led her to a Web site that listed names of account
holders. Surprisingly, her grandfather's name was there. Kahn-Hut surmised
that he had left small amounts of money in the accounts in case he should
need them again.