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Frank Cohn was born August 2, 1925, in Breslau, Germany (present day: Wroclaw, Poland) to Martin and Ruth Cohn. An only child, Frank and his parents lived comfortably in German middle class society. Martin owned a successful sporting goods store.
On April 1st, 1933, Nazi leadership carried out a nation-wide economic boycott targeting Jewish-owned businesses. Soon after, the Cohns sold the store and Martin found a position selling bales of cloth to clothing stores and tailor shops.
When Frank entered the third grade, his favorite teacher began wearing the Nazi uniform with a swastika armband. His peers joined the Hitler Youth and displayed the Nazi emblem on their clothing. When his classmates sang Hitler Youth 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. His parents placed him into a private Jewish school, just shortly before all Jewish children were expelled from German public schools, as dictated by antisemitic legislation.
Right after Frank’s Bar Mitzwah, in August 1938, Martin left for 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 to take him to their headquarters. Fearing for Martin’s life, Ruth sent a letter warning him not to return to Germany. Meanwhile, Ruth sought a visa to travel to the US and bribed a German consular clerk to add Frank’s name to the visa.
Ruth bought two first class tickets on the Staatendam Steamer of the Holland-America Line, departing from Amsterdam 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. However, first class passengers were invited to disembark directly onto the pier, avoiding the authorities on Ellis Island.
The Cohns reunited in New York on October 30th, 1938. On November 9th, a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms referred to as Kristallnacht took place throughout Germany and Austria. In response, President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order permitting all in-country German refugees to stay and the Cohns’ visitor visas were extended indefinitely.
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 he was sworn in as a US citizen. Frank was initially assigned to the 87th Infantry Division but while in Belgium, the Army discovered that he spoke German. He was sent to Le Vesinet, France for a two-week Intelligence course. Frank served during the Battle of the Bulge and later in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns, in a 12th Army Group Intelligence unit named T-Force. In the subsequent occupation by Allied Forces, Frank was tasked with guarding war criminals, overseeing German Prisoners of War, and shiping Nazi documents back to the US, in support of future war crime prosecutions.
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 before retiring from his role as Chief of Staff of the Military District of Washington. He married Pauline nee Brimberg in 1948 and they have one daughter, Laura. Frank is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.