Philip Kahn, 100, Dies; Spanish Flu Took His Twin a Century Ago

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This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Philip Kahn believed that history repeats itself, a truism that has hit home for his family in extraordinary fashion.

His twin brother, Samuel, died as an infant during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19. Now Mr. Kahn himself has died of the coronavirus. He was 100.

“He was a very healthy 100,” Warren Zysman, one of his grandsons, said in a phone interview. “He watched the news, he was completely aware of the pandemic. When he started coughing, he knew he might have it, and he knew the irony of what was going on.”

Mr. Zysman added: “And he would say, ‘Warren my boy, I told you history always repeats itself. We could have been much better prepared for this.’”

Philip Kahn, a decorated World War II veteran, died on April 17 at his home in Westbury, N.Y., on Long Island. “Tests confirmed he had Covid-19,” his doctor, Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist in nearby New Hyde Park, wrote on Facebook.

“Lovely man, wry wit, a kind soul,” Dr. Jauhar added. “His twin brother succumbed in a different pandemic, the Spanish flu … 101 years ago.”

The chances of siblings dying a century apart in global pandemics seem beyond remote, but the Kahns are not the only ones. Selma Ryan, 96, who died of the virus in San Antonio on April 14, lost her older sister, Esther, to the Spanish Flu 102 years earlier, according to News4SA, a local television station. The sisters never knew each other.

Philip Felix Kahn did not know his brother either. The twins, whose father ran a bakery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were born on Dec. 15, 1919, also in Manhattan, while the Spanish flu was still raging. The boys were just a few weeks old when Samuel died.

“He had this level of sadness about it because, while he was born a twin, he never got to experience being a twin,” said Mr. Zysman, who is himself a twin.

“He always told me how hard the loss of his brother was for his parents,” he added, “and that he carried this void with him his entire life.”

Philip served in an Army aerial unit in the Pacific during World War II, participating in the Battle of Iwo Jima and later in firebombing raids over Japan. He also helped make aerial surveys after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He earned two bronze stars.

After the war, he worked as an electrical foreman and helped build the World Trade Center and the first New York City blood bank. He was always active, enjoying swimming and dancing. He would even dance on roller skates.

In addition to Mr. Zysman, Mr. Kahn is survived by his daughter, Lynn Zysman; five other grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Mr. Zysman said that his grandfather had loved to talk about the war and history, and that almost every story he told began with his brother, Samuel, and ended with the same point: It was important to learn from experience. Toward the end of his life he spoke often of Samuel.

Mr. Zysman’s wife, Dr. Corey Karlin-Zysman, who has been treating coronavirus patients around the clock at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, called the brothers “pandemic bookends.”

The Spanish Flu killed 50 million people worldwide; so far, the coronavirus has killed 191,000.


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