Aftenposten 2013 02 18
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.
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.
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.