In loving memory of Eric Cahn
Close your eyes. Imagine losing your rights. You have to put on your yellow armband before you leave the house in the morning. Now your family can no longer shop in the local grocery store. Then you are told you can’t come to school any more….
Beginning with words like these, Eric Cahn mesmerized thousands of students and adults as he shared his story of being a child survivor of the Holocaust. When Eric spoke, he made the story come alive by transporting the audience to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. And he always ended with timeless lessons: Stand up to bullies. When you hear someone say something discriminatory, don’t stay silent. Tell people that it’s not OK with you.
Eric’s story is poignant and powerful, a testament both to the evil in the world and the power of love. Eric was born to Julius and Johanna Plaut Cahn on March 29,1938, in Mannheim. It was not a good time to be born a Jew in Germany. In October 1940, the Nazis forcibly removed the Cahn family, with their two children, Eric and Zilla, from their home along with all the other Jewish families still in Mannheim.
The armed Nazi thugs crammed adults, children and babies into freight cars for the journey to the holding camp in Gurs in the French Pyrenees. There, in August 1942, sensing the impending life-threatening danger, Johanna made the difficult decision to relinquish her son and daughter to the French Red Cross. Eric was hidden in the basement of a French Christian family for the next two years, and Zilla was taken in by a French woman. Johanna was murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Julius somehow survived the camps and later reunited with his children.
While telling his story was painful, Eric had made a pledge that he kept throughout his life. “I promise my mother that I will continue to bear witness to her experience so that her death will not be in vain. Maybe if enough children hear her story, they will help make our world a better place….” Eric says in his memoir, “Maybe Tomorrow: A Hidden Child of the Holocaust.” Eric entrusted me with collaborating on that book, one of the greatest honors of my life.
I met Eric when a colleague at Jeffco Schools recommended him as her trusted certified financial adviser. One day he began telling us the story of his childhood. My husband, Irv, said, “You should write a book.”
“I want to tell my story, but I can’t write,” Eric replied.
“Marilyn can,” Irv said immediately.
And so began our journey. We would meet during our lunch hour or after work. As Eric shared his story, I recorded our sessions and took copious notes, sometimes stained with tears. I learned about the life of an incredible man, who despite his early trauma, became a loving husband and father, a successful businessman and a sought-after public speaker. I got to meet, know and admire his wife, Jane. He introduced me to his children, Jeff, Michelle and Kevin.
In 1995, we published the book. Because Eric was beloved by so many clients and friends, we had a wonderful book signing at The Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver. The attendance was so high that the book was on The Denver Post local bestseller list that week! It meant so much to both Eric and me to be able to get his story in print.
Eric ends the memoir with thanks to his mother. “It was her faith in a better tomorrow that brought me to where I am today. Through her ultimate sacrifice, she granted me a lifetime of tomorrows.”
Eric died in September at the age of 84 after a lifetime of tomorrows that he spent in service to others. He lives on through his impact on countless students and adults, including me. I will miss him.