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Frank Cohn was born Franz Cohn on August 2, 1925, in Breslau, Germany (present day: Wrocław, Poland) to Martin Cohn and Ruth Potlitzer Cohn. An only child, Frank lived comfortably with his parents in German middle class society. Martin owned a successful sporting goods store. But the violent antisemitism of the Nazis impacted Frank’s family even before the Nazis came to power. In January 1927, a group of Nazis brutally beat Frank’s uncle Max Berdass who later died in June 1930 from his injuries.
After the Nazis came to power in January 1933, their antisemitic policies made life increasingly difficult for Jews in Germany, including the Cohn family. On April 1st, 1933, Nazi leadership carried out a nation-wide economic boycott targeting Jewish-owned businesses. A demonstration outside the Cohns store had intimidated the store’s employees. Soon after, the Cohns sold the store and Martin found a position selling bales of cloth to clothing stores and tailor shops.
In 1934, when Frank entered the third grade in a German public school, his favorite teacher began wearing a Nazi SA uniform with a swastika armband. His peers joined the Hitler Youth and displayed the Nazi emblem on their clothing. When his classmates sang Nazi songs, Frank was instructed to remain seated, as Jews were forbidden to sing those songs. Frank was chased by Hitler Youth boys after school but avoided being caught. For his fourth year of school, his parents placed him into a private Jewish school.
Soon after Frank’s Bar Mitzvah, in August 1938, Martin left for a trip to the United States and sought an affidavit from relatives to get Ruth and Frank out of Nazi Germany. Shortly after Martin left the country, the Gestapo came to the Cohn house looking for him. This visit scared Ruth, who was instructed to tell her husband to report to Gestapo headquarters as soon as he returned, prompting her to send Martin a letter warning him not to return to Germany. Meanwhile, Ruth sought a tourist visa to travel to the US and bribed a German consular clerk to add Frank’s name to the visa. They secretly packed one suitcase each, without alerting others or saying goodbye to their friends.
Ruth bought two first-class tickets on the Statendam Steamer of the Holland-America Line, departing from Rotterdam for New York. Ruth feared that if immigration authorities knew that her husband was already in the US, they would order their immediate return to Europe. Frank remembered his mother being afraid that the border inspectors would not let them into the country or that the inspectors would find a problem with their visas. Luckily, they came ashore without issue.
The Cohns reunited in New York on October 30th, 1938. On November 9th, a wave of anti-Jewish violence referred to as Kristallnacht took place throughout Nazi Germany. In response, President Roosevelt used his executive authority to extend the visas of all Germans traveling in the United States on temporary visas. The Cohns were allowed to stay in the United States.
Just a month after his 18th birthday in 1943, Frank was drafted into the US Army to fight in World War II. During Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was sworn in as a US citizen and assigned to the 87th Infantry Division. Frank was then detached and sent as an Infantry Replacement to England and hence to France where he disembarked on Omaha Beach, a few months after the June 1944 D-Day invasion. He then was sent to Belgium, but while there the Army discovered that he spoke German. He was sent to Le Vésinet, France for a two-week military intelligence course. Frank served during the Battle of the Bulge and later in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns as a member of a six-men Interrogator Prisoner of War Team, attached to an Intelligence unit named T-Force, 12th Army Group. Their job was to asses the value of captured individuals and buildings related to government, Nazi party, industry and technology for use during the Allied-occupation and for the prosecution of war criminals. During the subsequent Allied occupation of Germany, Frank continued his intelligence work. At one point, he was tasked with overseeing German Prisoners of War who were detailed to help pack and ship Nazi documents to the US, in support of future war crime prosecutions.
While in Germany, Frank tried to find out the fates of his relatives who had remained behind. Eventually, he learned that 11 members of his extended family members, including his aunt Else Berdass Lichtenstein, were killed in the Holocaust.
After the war, Frank completed his undergraduate degree in Psychology and Education at the City College of New York and later obtained a Masters degree in Police Administration from Michigan State University. Frank continued to serve in the military for a total of 35 years, achieving the rank of colonel, before retiring from his role as Chief of Staff of the Military District of Washington. He married Pauline née Brimberg in 1948 and they have one daughter, Laura. Pauline died in 2021 after 72 years of a happy marriage. Frank is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.