Hazel Kahan was born in Lahore, Pakistan, the daughter of two Jewish physicians who fled Europe in 1937 to escape burgeoning anti-Semitism. Forty years after leaving the city of her youth, Kahan felt compelled to return to Lahore and find the house where she had grown up.
Kahan will narrate “The Other Pakistan,” the story of her parents’ exile, including a five-year camp internment by the British, her life in Lahore, and her going back, complete with photos and film, at the Woodstock Library on Saturday, August 16, at 5 p.m. Her talk will illuminate the cosmopolitan flourishing of Lahore in the 40s and 50s, as well as the efforts of idealistic young professionals who are rebuilding their country after massive flooding in 2010 and 2012.
“Lahore was always my home town, even though I had no normal cultural connections to the place where I was born,” she explained. “But I had a profound emotional attachment. My parents had a thriving medical practice there and a wonderful relationship with the Muslims, who were much more secular than now. They described us as ‘people of the book,’ with no political component, until after [Israel’s] Six-Day War. Suddenly my parents were thought of as Zionist spies, and it became so unpleasant, they had to leave. They went to Israel and died there.”
In 1933, Hitler decreed that Jews were not allowed to study medicine in Germany. Dr. Kate and Dr. Hermann Selzer met in Rome while training for their medical degrees. When the Hitler-Mussolini alliance made a medical practice unfeasible for them in Europe, Hermann went exploring. While visiting what was then British India, he cured a leg infection of the son of a prominent woman in Lahore, and she urged him to set up a clinic in the city. Kate soon joined him, and their practice prospered.
Hazel was born in 1939. Although she spent much of her childhood in boarding schools in England and India, she kept returning to the house in Lahore until the family left, when she was 32. She married and lived in England, Australia, and Israel, obtaining a doctorate in psychology in the U.S.
When her father died in 2007, she read through his voluminous writings. “He had documented our lives,” she recalled. “My mother had kept all my letters from boarding school. I felt an imperative to go back and see if it was what I remembered.”
The visit was fruitful. Her parents’ former clinic had become a cultural institute, where she met two women, Shireen Pasha and Rashida Raza, who were working on a film about Lahore when it was a vibrant cultural center in the years after World War II, echoing its historic role as a fertile crossroads. Kahan provided material about her parents and a voiceover for the short film. She went on to collaborate with the women on a documentary about the flood recovery process in villages around Lahore. Working independently from the government, young architects are helping to rebuild while laying the groundwork for what Kahan calls “an entirely new grass-roots-driven socio-economic system and movement.”
Kahan, who had a successful career in marketing research, now lives on the North Fork of Long Island, where she writes, creates art, and hosts two radio shows on local and international events.
Hazel Kahan will present “The Other Pakistan” on Saturday, August 16, at 5 p.m. at the Woodstock Library, 5 Library Lane. For more information on her work, see https://hazelkahan.com/.