Highest honor bestowed on Herman Kahan


Aftenposten 2013 02 18

Harald Stanghelle

As Herman Kahan receives the order of St. Olav on today, this is an award for the struggle against amnesia and for tolerance.

On Friday, he was 87. Today, he will be invested as commander of the Order of t. Olav, our highest honor. However, more important, Herman Kahan represents one of the strongest single destinies receiving this honor. Born in the village of Sighet in Rumania. Deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. Further on the  Wolfsberg, Mauthausen and Ebensee; where he was quite literally picked up from a pile of corpses, given the gift of a new life. A sister brought Herman Kahan to post WW2 Oslo. Here, he was an enthusiastic and successful businessman; however, his self-imposed duty to talk of tolerance between faiths and peoples has never wavered through this. This is one of the main reasons for today’s well deserved and also well-placed royal honor.

Visible tracks.

We others may wonder over how humans like Herman Kahan- who has faced human evil in its purest form- take on themselves the role of being the standard bearer of tolerance. Where hatred and bitterness could be expected, it is rather a search for reconciliation, dominating the processes of thought. This is how Herman Kahan has left visible tracks in the Norwegian society. “The fire and the light” is the title of Herman Kahane’s autobiography. In this Elie Wiesel, a friend from his childhood in Sighel, has written the introduction. “Amnesia is on the side of the enemy. Amnesia is THE enemy”. This fear is kept alive by those having experienced the great European ragnarok- the fear over amnesia clearing the ground for future disasters.

More responsibility.

Herman Kahan is an important temporal witness. One whose forceful message has been of importance to constructing the collective and active memory to be used as a mental barrier against future bestiality. It is of importance to have in a turbulent epoch; when attempts are being made to uproot this understanding of reality. Also when the narrative is difficult and painful. There was a good reason for Herman Kahan to decide not to tell any of his five children about his own story before they wore 18 years old. Today’s recipient of the order of St. Olav has made understanding and tolerance into practical concepts, not just fair words. He has spoken of it. Practiced it. And instated his own award for this. Herman Kahan, the trained rabbi, descending from an Ultra-orthodox family, has been intensively preoccupied with the role of religion in this picture. Herman Kahan says he had to rethink concerning the will of God when it comes to us humans.


Whatever, his credo is solid as a rock: “We must take more responsibility concerning our fellow humans than we do today.


7 comments for “Highest honor bestowed on Herman Kahan

  1. Eric R.
    February 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I think Mr. Kahan should have done the honorable thing and refused the “honor”; citing Norwegian Jew-hatred as the reason.

  2. Gábor Fränkl
    February 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I would reject this worthless pathetic trinket out of hand or throw at these people’s head right back, if I were him. But it’s just me.

  3. Martin
    February 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

    For a man who believes in tolerance to accept an award from an intolerant society makes no sense at all.
    Surely, it would have been better for a posthumous award when the award has real meaning, unlike today’s society in Jew/Israel hating Norway?

  4. de Bacle
    February 20, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Herman Kahan, “The soft soken man with the powerful voice”, Nominated by the Christian author Jan Otto Johansen, deserves the honur. Besides the work cited for the understanding betwen etnicities, religions and people, he has worked for 60 years for the Jewish life in Oslo. In the pre-Melchior days this very wealthy man took off from his office and demanding business, every day, for years, to go teach kids in the Oslo Cheder, because it should be done. He himself a dedicated Zionist, his children too, 4 out of 5 made aiyah, the fifth building a Jewish museum in Poland – of course Stanghelle doesn’t mention that.

    So, in a way the King is sending amessage –
    “Linsatad and Fylkesmman (county governor) look at learn: Here is a man that is truly deserving of the Kings honour. He also put his soul and resources to the benefit of the children of his community, but in cotrast to your antisemitic rants, he did not see the need to kick other etncities. On the contrary, he worked all these years to try to impress his fellow men of the importance that Norwegians show resepect to all other religions.

    This is a real “Purim” turn of events. This does not deserve to be turned against the King; He did identify, in the end, who deserved to be cursed and who deserved to be honoured.

  5. February 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Very well put, de Bacle, and with that, a very happy Purim to you and all who read this blog. May your hangover be of the light kind… Hamentashen on my table here! Dalicious! (yeah, I put the a there on purpose)

  6. Eric R.
    February 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm


    From what you write of him it would seem all the more reason for him to reject this “honor”.

  7. Martin
    February 21, 2013 at 3:41 am

    khag sameakh lekoolam

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