Berman’s Branches
Barbara Hacker Berman
Interviews - Burton Kahn

Burton Kahn
Synopsis of Two Interviews
Compiled 5/23/09

Suzan Kahn Hale used two interviews with Burt as the basis of her Discourse Analysis for her doctorate. I am going to take a synopsis of this information for our family history. The first interview was held at Ellis Island, by Janet Levine, oral histories for the National Park Service on 8/30/2006. The second interview was done by Suzan on 4/3/2009. The interview centered around his part in W.W.II.

Barbara Berman

Burt left High School at the age of 17 to join the fight in W.W.II. He joined because, “the war was on”. Lots of his friends were joining. It was the thing to do.

Later in the interview he said he joined the Coast Guard because he got off at the wrong subway station. He wanted to join the Navy, but got off at the Coast Guard recruiting station, so he joined! Ironic as he got seasick and hated boats! He felt the Coast Guard might mean guarding the Coast and walking on the beach!

The first stop in his training was Manhattan Beach, then Ellis Island, in 1943. On Manhattan Beach they practiced rowing boats. It was October, cold with rough seas. Suzan interjected that she remembered that he was not fond of cold or physical labor!

On Ellis Island,they slept on cots in the Great Hall. At the time he was there, there were German Officer prisoners that they guarded. One officer asked him for a cigarette. Burt shoved his rifle in his face and said, “Would you like one of these?” He felt negative toward the prisoners. They were Nazi’s on purpose and that Hitler had ‘suckered them in’. He like being there because they got lots of leave time and he could go home or into Manhattan.

He did not like military life and stated, “It was not for me.” But he really wanted to serve--remember he was only 17.

An incident on Ellis Island came about when Burt was on Guard. A guy jumped off a boat and dropped a package. “I yelled, ‘Halt’ and called the captain. I held him at bayonet point. The captain came and said, “Hey stupid, the guy’s leaving a lantern here. He’s a boat man.” But the captain said Burt had done the right thing.

A couple of hundred Coast Guard men waited at Ellis Island for assignment. Burt was assigned to patrol frigate 33, USS frigate 33 and went by train to South Carolina to meet the ship. He went to the North Atlantic and down to the Azores. They went out on 30 day patrol duties to different stations and returned to Newfoundland. Their ship was converted to a weather station. (Note: Burt will not discuss this, but his ship was blown up in the North Atlantic and he was saved in the North Atlantic.)

He finally got back to Boston and was transferred to San Francisco and a manning ship tank. He liked the duty here better then on the frigate. He became a “black gang”, which meant he worked in the engine room. He liked this duty. He was on this ship for about a year. They converted the ship to an ammunition ship in Pittsburg, California. They loaded up the bays with shells for 16” guns. This was for the invasion of Japan. (Note: This never happened due to the bombings in Japan.) They got as far as Pearl Harbor and the war ended. Burt did not feel much camaraderie with his shipmates.

Asked what was the highlight of his career, he laughed, and said, “My discharge.” He said he was glad he did it and glad it was over.

For 52 weeks after discharge, they earned $20.00 per week from the government. This really helped him with school, etc.

Burt was 20 when he got home. His parents had moved to Miami while he was overseas due to his Dad’s heart condition. He went back to their house in Brooklyn and went back to complete High School. Then he moved to Miami and studied accounting.

He remembers Grandpa Druse as very strong and agile. When Burt was in Plainfield, Grandpa lived in Plainfield and ran a newspaper stand near the subway. He remembers Grandpa as a “hard man”. He remembers my mother as a “wonderful woman”.

Asked if his visit to Ellis Island in 2006 stirred up any memories of his experience there, he said, “No.”

He regretted that in a flood in Houston in 1968, he lost all his photographs, including those of W.W.II.

Asked he his experience in W.W.II was a highlight of his life or a low point, he said it was just an experience. Asked about his life in general he said his life has been very satisfactory.

Addition to Burton Kahn’s interview by his sister, Cecily Kahn Cain:

Burt worked in New Jersey. Beverly and Burt lived there after their wedding.

He came to Philadelphia to help me the end of my freshman year of college. I visited them in NJ. I know they had the honor of babysitting Roberta Druse. Beverly dumped a plate of spaghetti on her head!

We were about in the 8th or 9th grade when my father and Sol Solat took me, Clare Solat and Norman Solat for a drive to Greenpoint to see the block they grew up on. It was on Monteith (sp.?) street. They were tenements, some condemned. They said it did not look much different. Once I was shown the apartment house where Burt fell out the first floor window. What a fascinating family!

I remember that Grandpa Kahn lived with us for a short time at 7902 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn. He slept on a rollaway cot. My mom hid the bacon while he was there! That is my only memory of him. Most of the time he lived with Aunt Bea and Cyril. I thought my Aunt Bea was a widow because no one discussed divorce! He was an alcoholic and a musician to boot!

When Aunt Florrie was at the orphanage, Fay and Renee were boarded out to some distant relatives. My mom hated the woman and moved herself upstairs to live with the Tunkels. For years I thought they were related to us, but not so. Renee was already working, Fay in school. I think she went to work after 8th grade, possibly to a millinery workshop. Lila introduced mom to my dad.