George Hahn speaks about Holocaust at MCHS
By Jessica Moore
Students in Laurie Crowell's and Tammy Shrivalle's Advanced Placement U.S. History, World History, and U.S. Government classes at Marshall County High School had the rare opportunity last Friday to hear a first hand account of the life of a Jewish family during World War II.
George Hahn was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1930. Hahn, who is a retired professor at Vanderbilt University, was just eight years old when Nazi Germany occupied Austria. Within weeks, his family lost nearly all of their civil rights and was forced to leave without their possessions. They were fortunate to have a family member already living in the United States. He was very informed about what was going on in Europe during that time and was able to get them to America very quickly. Hahn's parents were very bitter about the Austrians not fighting the Germans. They were heartbroken and never went back to Austria after the war. Hahn's family on both his mother's and father's side lived in Vienna for three generations before they had to leave the country. Hahn shared memories of watching the Nazi airplanes flying over Vienna. At the time, he had no idea what was going on. To him, a boy of just eight years old, it was fascinating watching all of the planes flying in the sky. He also shared a memory of being at the park in downtown Vienna near their apartment. His mother was approached by an officer and asked if she was a Jew. When she replied yes, she was taken away. It wasn't until later that evening that she returned home. She had been forced to wash dishes. Not much later, when they were back at the park, an officer approached them. He told them if they were Jews they were no longer allowed in the park. They were devastated.
Hahn gave a brief history of the persecution of the Jewish people throughout history. He then explained how Hitler came to power. Hitler's message to the Germans was that they did not lose the World War I on the battlefield. He explained to the people of Germany that they were a super race, which he referred to as the Aryan race, and were entitled to rule over Europe. Hitler then convinced his followers that Jewish people were all evil and considered them an obstacle to prosperity.
Hahn told the students that the killing of the Jews, known as the Holocaust, began in 1942. A total of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews were killed during that time. Hahn's grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and even his future mother-in-law were all victims of the Holocaust. He also shared his wife's story of being a Jewish child during WWII. His second wife was born in Paris, France. Her parents had emigrated to France from Poland. When the war broke out, her parents placed her in a home for safety when she was just a toddler. The family she was placed with was a Christian family living on a farm outside of Paris. When it became too dangerous for the family to keep her, they contacted her father. Before her mother and father could find a way to take care of her, they were killed. At the age of 10 she immigrated to the United States and began living with her aunt.
Hahn's family first settled in New York City, once they landed in the U.S. They lived in a community where people spoke German. The environment felt like home, so they continued to live there for some time. Hahn later relocated to Tennessee. He has two daughters, one granddaughter, and one grandson.
"There shouldn't be prejudice," said Hahn. He urged the students to "get to know a person before you decide how you feel about them." He ended by allowing the students to ask questions.