Recalling comrade Otto Cahn

by Theo Russell

I KNEW Otto Cahn for many years and for several years my party branch meetings took place in his extremely modest council flat on a large, thoroughly working class and multi-cultural council estate.

Otto’s dedication to party work was almost total, and he was the face of the party selling the New Worker at countless meetings from one side of London to the other, almost seven days a week.

He detested time-wasting, and in his eyes the greatest waste of time was talking about himself. As a result I know almost nothing about his life, family, political activities in Germany, or how he came to leave the country.

However he loved talk to about the time he spent on a farm in Wexford, Ireland, during the war which was clearly one of the most enjoyable episodes of his life.

He had particularly fond memories of the farm owner and his family, with whom he kept in touch for many years, and even returned to visit them many years after the war.

Otto was without doubt the most frugal and thrifty person I’ve ever met. For him the party was more important than anything else and every penny he could save went to the party. His flat was reminiscent of monk’s chamber (without any religious imagery of course).

One of the most frequent memories I have is of Otto angrily chiding various comrades for spending money on deplorable extravagances such as cups of tea, coffee or sandwiches; for him ready-made take-away meals bordered on a criminal waste of money.

In my view his unparalleled dedication to the party arose from his experiences before and after the Nazi takeover in Germany, at a time when being a communist in Germany and many other parts of Europe was literally a matter of life and death. Even today I frequently recall his extraordinary dedication as an example to myself and other comrades.