Born on March 10, 1929, Romi Cohn grew up in Czechoslovakia when it was invaded by the Germans when he was ten years old. Cohn and his family continued to live there due to an “economic exception,” until they decided it was too dangerous and he was sent to Hungary. A couple years later, he returned to Czechoslovakia and began helping Jewish refugees receive Christian papers or find places to live. After being arrested for possession of false Christian documents, Romi Cohn made an escape and joined the partisans. He later retold his story in his novel The Youngest Partisan. Today, Romi Cohn is a rabbi in New York City and real estate developer.
“He show me a paper, he looks at the paper, he says, alright, very good. What is your name? I said Romi Cohn. He said, your name is Jan Kovatch. I say, Mr. Captain, I’m sorry, my name is Romi Cohn. He looks again — your name is Jan Kovatch.I says, no. He gave a bang on the table, the table jumped up I think two feet up off the floor, and said, Kovatch is your name! Get your arms and get out!” – Romi’s account of receiving his name from the Partisans
“From the time I was 9 years old, I had witnessed the destruction of my world.” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 134
“We turned toward Gehinnom [“Purgatory,” the Gestapo station in Pressburg]. From that point on I had nothing to lose. For me, anything less than an escape meant certain death.” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 149, discussing being arrested by the Gestapo in Pressburg
“Nothing could shatter my happiness. I had waited for this dreamed-of moment for so long.” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 179, discussing finally meeting the partisan commander
“More than simply ‘remember the Holocaust’, we must remember the lessons of the Holocaust!” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 283 and his advice to future generations
Romi Cohn Saving 58 Families
Cohn’s work to help others through the Nazi regime started with one family he knew from his childhood, the family of Reb Meir. He learned that the family would not be able to stay living in their hiding place because their landlord exploited them for all their money and was now threatening to evict Reb Meir’s family. Romi promised the man he would help him out and the following week, he supplied Meir with the money his family needed for rent. Cohn discovered more and more people needed this type of assistance and he knew he couldn’t afford to help everyone financially. He enlisted the help of Reb Shlomo to financially aid 58 families and allow them to stay living in their safe havens. Cohn also enlisted the help of a janitor from the Gestapo office to secure Christian papers for these families.
Joining the Partisans
“I had to take revenge against the Nazi’s” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 165
“Once on the train, I realized that I was the only civilian on it. Now I was literally in the lions’ den, one lamb among hundreds of ravenous lions.” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 171
In order to join the partisan unit, Cohn had to infiltrate Nazi territory and even ride a train of Gestapo officials. He used false papers to pretend he was Gestapo also, but his plan worked. He managed to take the Nazi train to an area near the partisan unit. While on his way to join the partisans, Romi was stopped by a peasant woman warning him to fear the partisans and get to his destination before nightfall. He knew that it wasn’t the partisans he had to fear, and continued to move on. Upon arriving to the partisan group and receiving his new name, Romi did not hesitate to immediately join a patrol group. His first experience with some of his other partisan fighters was interesting, and it was obvious life as the partisan was difficult for them. The next day, he went on patrol to learn the way of the partisans. The first victory for the group was when the patrol group Cohn was in spotted a platoon of German soldiers. His patrol sent men from the first two bunkers, but not himself, to kill all 12 of the Germans. After weeks of training, Romi’s patrol encountered a platoon of 10 Germans, and that brought his training to end.
“If I was going to die, it would be with dignity” – Romi Cohn in The Youngest Partisan page 191
March 10th 1929: Born in Czechoslovakia
1938: Germany invaded Czechoslovakia
1942: Mass deportations of Jews from Slovakia, but Romi’s family was granted economic exception
1942: Due to the progressing situation, he escaped to Hungary where he continued his education
1944: Hungary joined Axis powers so Romi returned to Czechoslovakia
1944: Spent the next few months helping Jewish refugees find housing and supplied them with false Christian documents
1945: Arrested for supplying false documents, but made a brave escape
1945: Joined the Partisan fighters and assisted them before the Germans were in retreat, then he helped interrogate SS and execute the guilty
“My biggest, what I was looking for it was the most, was not to stay alive or to die. The fear I should have, the fear from the Germans, I should be able to live without fearing those beasts, you know, these are my biggest dream and my biggest ambition.”
Friedländer, Saul, and Orna Kenan. Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009.