‘There must be an ocean between us’: Son recounts mother’s escape from Nazi Germany

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, Sam Kahn realized he had to get his entire family out of the country.

His grandson, David Lindauer, described him in an interview with WTOP as “not a particularly well-educated man,” but a man who had a keen sense of what was going on in Germany in the 1930s.

When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, Sam Kahn realized he had to get his entire family out of Germany. His daughter, Thea Kahn Lindauer, fled to the U.S.

Lindauer says two things made his grandfather’s resolution unusual; one, was the timing. In 1930s Germany, there had not yet been a lot of atrocities committed against Jews, although the Nazi’s were outspoken about their anti-Semitism. The second was his grandfather’s “rock solid” belief that going to France or Holland would not be enough. Lindauer says his grandfather strongly believed that treaties and boundaries were not going to stop Hitler.

Thea as a young girl. She escaped Nazi Germany and came to the U.S. through the 1000 Children Program.

“There must be an ocean between us,” Lindauer recalls his grandfather said.

Decades later that was the title of Kahn’s daughter, Thea Kahn Lindauer’s book, “There Must Be An Ocean Between Us.”

Thea Kahn Lindauer died in July, but her book, which was published in 2007, preserves the family’s history, containing letters that she, her father, mother and sister wrote to one another during their separation as they fled Nazi Germany.

From 1934 to 1937, Sam Kahn’s primary duty, according to his grandson, was to get his entire family across the Atlantic Ocean and to the U.S.

In November 1934, Thea came to the U.S. as part of the One Thousand Children Program — children who were taken out of Germany with the initial intent of giving European children an American education.

During the years between her arrival in the U.S. and writing her book, David Lindauer described his mother as “a very busy woman.”

She spent 19 years as an Army officer’s wife after marrying Harry Lindauer in October of 1947. The couple had three children, David, Marian and Robin. Harry Lindauer had served under Gen. George Patton during World War II.

After the Lindauers retired, they settled in the Annapolis area in 1967 where they sponsored a generation of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. They also supported the Uriah P. Levy and Jewish Chapel in Annapolis.

Thea Lindauer devoted much of the next chapter of her life to keeping the memory of the people lost in the Holocaust alive.

“She, also along with Dad, worked very hard for reconciliation and closure with the German people,” David Lindauer said.

She felt that it wasn’t enough to focus on the Jewish victims, “We have to focus on the Germans and what they went through.”

Thea Kahn Lindauer’s wrote a book, “There Must Be An Ocean Between Us,” about her experience escaping Nazi Germany.

The Lindauers made about a dozen trips to Germany during the 1980s and 1990s to talk to people, especially young people, about what it was like being a Jew in Germany in the 1930s.

David Lindauer says for three or four decades after World War II, “The Germans refused to speak about this time.”

Kids growing up in the 1970s and ’80s were not getting their questions answered about what their families did during the war, he said. The Lindauers sought to answer those questions, and their son said they became very popular giving lectures and talks.

The Lindauer’s also translated documents for the Red Cross Holocaust Search Project to try to connect people to family members who they lost touch with during the war. They also tried to bring resolution to families whose loved ones simply vanished.

In the last decade and a half of her life, her son said she became involved with the Holocaust Museum in D.C. She gave video interviews about her experiences and the experiences of people she knew. When Colonel Lindauer died in 2006 at the age of 88, David Lindauer said the family donated a lot of his memorabilia from his boyhood, his young manhood and his time in the U.S. military during World War II to the museum.

The couple was also involved in the arts in Annapolis. Col. Lindauer was president of the Annapolis Opera Company from 1991-1994. When his term ended, Thea Lindauer was president of the Annapolis Opera Company until 1998 and that same year received a Maryland State Award for Women in the Arts.

Thea Lindauer passed away on July 28, 2022, just 11 days after her 100th birthday.

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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