Werner Jacob Cahnman was born in Munich on September 30, 1902, the scion of an old German Jewish family. His mother’s family belonged to the haute bourgeoisie; they were bankers, jurists and industrialists, living in Munich and Nuremberg. He was the nephew of the artist Julius Wolfgang Schülein (1881 Munich —1970 New York). Cahnmann studied at the Universities of Munich and Berlin, majoring in economics, history, political science and sociology. He obtained his PhD from the University of Munich in 1927. Between 1930 and 1938 Cahnmann worked as a counsel for the Bavarian Regional Organization of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (bayrischen Landesverband des Centralvereins deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens). Due to his socialist political activism, in 1934 he was briefly thrown into the Munich police prison for being the “leader of an illegal organization”. One of his former classmates at the University of Munich, Rudolf Hess, was reportedly instrumental in his release. In the winter 1938 he was interned in the concentration camp Dachau. Together with his brother Hans he was one of the prominent Jews aided by Varian Fry in his escape from Europe, and in the summer of 1939 he immigrated to the U.S. via England. He entered the United States in 1940 and soon after partook in a summer seminar for foreign scholars and teachers at the Brewster Free Academy in Wolfsboro, New Hampshire. After holding various academic positions, in 1960Cahnmann finally settled as a professor at Rutgers University. Cahnman died of cancer in Forest Hills, New York, on September 27, 1980. Dr. Gisella Levi Cahnman, his widow, inherited his papers.
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Unknown Artist: Werner Cahnmann as a six-months old baby, Leo Baeck Institute, 2005.47.