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Siegmund Cohn * 1878
Eppendorfer Baum 19 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
Alice Jenny Cohn, née Gottschalk, formerly Isenberg, born 27 Oct. 1887 in Berlin, deported 8 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Siegmund Cohn, born 19 Dec. 1878 in Hamburg, deported 8 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Eppendorfer Baum 19
Alice Cohn was the daughter of Melanie (Pincus) and Meir Gottschalk. Her mother died when she was 11. Alice had three sisters – Eva, Hedwig, and Antonie – and one brother, Walter. Except for Hedwig, who emigrated to South America with her family, all of the siblings, their spouses, and children were deported and murdered.
Alice grew up in Wilmersdorf and Charlottenburg, in a well-to-do, assimilated family. The family took frequent vacation trips, for example to Switzerland. Her father must have been a progressive thinker, as he saw the advantage of a professional education for women. Alice attended the Lette Association’s Business and Trade School. Wilhelm Adolf Lette founded the "Association for the Advancement of Earning Ability for the Female Sex” in Berlin in 1866. The goal of the association was to provide unmarried women with an education and therefore the opportunity to earn an independent living. They could train as seamstresses, illustrators, embroidresses, typesetters, or telegraph operators, and thus later find work in the retail trade or industry. The Lette-Association still exists today, as sponsor of several trade schools. It celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2002.
As Alice Gottschalk later worked as a scientific illustrator at the Eppendorf hospital, it can be assumed that she attended the photographic training institution. It offered specialized training for scientific photographers and x-ray technicians, including scientific illustration. The school’s archives were largely destroyed in the last months of World War II, so that records from the years before 1945 no longer exist. The dates that Alice attended the school are therefore unknown.
It is also not known when and where she met the dentist Sally Isenberg (*29 May 1976 in Marburg). They married, and their daughter Melanie was born on 6 April 1911 in Hamburg. Sally Isenberg was killed in the fighting in Flanders three years later. Alice supported herself and her daughter by making anatomic illustrations for the Eppendorf hospital. Her drawings have not survived.
Several years after the war Alice married Siegmund Cohn, the son of Marianne (Hirschel) and Marcus Cohn. He was a broker of overseas raw materials and had his own company. He lived with his widowed mother and younger sister Anna Franziska (see Biography, Anna Franziska Cohn) at Rutschbahn 15. After the wedding he moved into Anna’s apartment at Eppendorfer Baum 19. Their daughter Charlotte was born on 18 December 1922. When I visited her in London in 2008, she told me that her mother painted, and that many of her paintings and anatomical drawings hung in the apartment. Among them was a portrait of Charlotte. Unfortunately, none of the pictures has survived, but Charlotte inherited her mother’s talent and paints as well.
She remembers that her parents had a happy marriage. Since Alice was an accomplished pianist, the couple met regularly with Max and Goldi van der Walde (see Biography, Iwan van der Walde), to play together. As a woman, Alice could not become a member of the Nehemia Nobel B’nai B’rith Lodge, but she was active in its ladies’ auxiliary, which aided Eastern European Jews in emigrating to America. Both Siegmund and Alice were very close to their siblings, and the family often visited their relatives in Berlin. Charlotte was the youngest of the cousins.
Melanie, Alice’s daughter from her first marriage, trained as a bank clerk and worked at the Warburg Bank in Berlin until she emigrated. She died in South Africa in the spring of 2008.
Because of the age difference and Melanie’s job in Berlin, the half-sisters’ relationship was not close. Charlotte had a sheltered upbringing in Hamburg. Her parents did their best to shield her from the difficulties of the 1930s. She described her father as "very German” and "very kind.” He was interested in history, the First World War, and expeditions like those of Sven Hedin. The Swedish explorer undertook several research expeditions to Central Asia, and, with his writings, made the Transhimalaya known to the western world. He also wrote popular books about the customs of the region. Siegmund Cohn shared his interests with his daughter. They discussed them on walks through the park. On these walks Sigmund always had his cane with the silver handle with him. Charlotte liked to drag it behind her, which her father found less amusing.
After her elementary schooling, Charlotte attended the Curschmannstraße Girl’s Lyceum, but had to leave two years later because of the resentment against Jews. She transferred first to the Jewish Girls’ School on Johnsallee, and then to the Carolinenstraße Girls’ School. In preparation for study at the university, her parents, both of whom spoke fluent English, sent her to a boarding school in England. The necessary sponsorship was probably provided by a business associate of her father’s. When she left Hamburg in October 1938, neither she nor her parents suspected that they would never see each other again.
Although Charlotte was very close to her parents, she was glad to leave Germany. She attended a school run by Quakers, and felt very much at home there and got along well with the other children. She played field hockey and spoke enough English to get by. She and her parents exchanged letters regularly. But the outbreak of World War II changed the situation dramatically. Her school was near the coast, and thus in an area where foreigners were banned. In addition, no more money was coming from home – Charlotte had to leave the boarding school and went to London, where she was just barely able to keep her head above water. She later found work with the Jewish Refugee Committee. She married in 1944, and she and her husband, who was from Leipzig, had two sons. One of them wrote to me when he heard of this project: "My parents lost their families and their youths. That compromised the rest of their lives and affected the lives of myself and my brother.”
Later in life, Charlotte was able to fulfill a lifelong dream. Once her children were grown, she went to college. She studied humanities at the Open University, and received her Bachelor of Arts with Honours in 1974.
After the war, Charlotte learned that her parents had been deported to Minsk. One of her former teachers, Valeska Wulf, had defied the regulations and stayed in contact with the parents of some of her former pupils who had emigrated. She continued to visit Alice and Siegmund Cohn. On the day before they were deported, Alice gave her a carton of family photos to keep for Charlotte.
Valeska Wulf, the only teacher at her school who did not join the Nazi Party, spent time in prison during the war, and was conscripted to clear rubble after air raids. Whether her imprisonment and conscription were a result of her resistance work is not yet clear. Charlotte was able to support Valeska Wulf after the war with care packages, and would like to express her gratitude to her former teacher by honoring her actions here.
Translator(s): Amy Lee
Translation kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg
© Sabine Brunotte
Quellen: 1; 4; StaH Jüdische Gemeinden, 992e Bd.2; Schriftl. Auskunft Charlotte Stenham vom 11.5. 2008; Mündl. Auskunft Charlotte Stenham vom 20.5.2008; E-Mail Lette-Verein Jana Haase vom 17.7.2008; Broschüre Lette-Verein Berlin, Ausgabe Herbst 2005; www.denkmalprojekt.org/Verlustlisten, Zugriff vom 2.6.2010, betr. Gedenkbuch des Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten; telefonische Auskunft Prof. Holstein, UKE, vom 12. 8. 2008; telefonische Auskunft Isi Werner vom 3.7.2008; Weinke, "Ich bin Volljüdin ...", in: Wamser/Weinke, Eine verschwundene Welt, 2006; dtv Lexikon Mannheim und München 1997 zu Sven Hedin; schriftliche Auskunft Jeremy Stenham, E-Mail vom 12.5.2008; schriftliche Auskunft Robin Stenham, E-Mail vom 23.7.2010; wikipedia zu "humanities" and "open university", Zugriff vom 16.8.2010.
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