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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:               HERBERT KOHN

INTERVIEWERS:       RUTH EINSTEIN

DATE:                         NOVEMBER 14, 2000

LOCATION:                ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Born in Frankfurt am Main in 1926, Herbert Kohn was just six when the Nazis took control of Germany. Herbert, his older brother, mother and father soon felt the effects of anti-Jewish policies. Herbert was kicked out of public school and sent to a segregated Jewish school. His father, Leo, lost his job and began making plans to emigrate from Germany. On Kristallnacht, Herbert’s father was arrested and taken to Buchenwald. When a S.S. officer discovered a letter from President Hindenburg to Leo thanking him for his service in World War I and an accompanying Iron Cross, he was released from the concentration camp. Soon after, the family immigrated to England, where they lived for almost a year before coming to the United Sates. With the help of their sponsor, the Kohn family settled in Alabama and learned to farm.

On his eighteenth birthday, Herbert enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 1945, he returned to Germany as a soldier. After his service, he earned a degree in agriculture from Auburn University. He later transitioned to accounting and became a CPA and then CFO and CEO of a building company. After establishing himself in business and moving to Atlanta, he joined a company that provided affordable housing to low-income people. Herbert also served 26 years in the United States Army Reserve and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

 Herbert had three children with his first wife. Kohn is a prominent civic leader and volunteer. He maintains a steady schedule of speaking engagements related to his experiences in the Holocaust.

Scope of Interview:

Herbert offers his perspective of the context in which the Nazis cam to power to in Germany. He shares his thoughts on how the Nazis were able to kill six million Jews were during the Holocaust. Herbert talks about his grandparents. He describes a strict discipline but relaxed level of observance in his household. Herbert shares how his father’s perspective began to change as the family endured more and more anti-Jewish policies. He recalls the day he was kicked out of school and his friends began to shun him. Herbert remembers Kristallnacht and a soldier coming to arrest his father. He recounts how his mother saved the family by securing visas to England. Herbert repeats what his father told him about his imprisonment in Buchenwald when he returned a few weeks later. Herbert explains how the family immigrated to England before coming to the United States. He discusses the adjustment to life as farmers in Alabama, the segregation he witnessed in the South, and being welcomed by the local Jewish community. Herbert talks about joining the United States Army and returning to Germany at the end of the war. He explains how he returned after the war, attended Auburn University and joined the United States Army Reserves. He details his parents’ move to Columbus, Georgia and their struggle to build a new life. Herbert recollects saying goodbye to his grandparents and what happened to them during World War II. He discusses what he has learned about the extermination camps. Herbert closes by explaining why it is important to him to talk to students about the Holocaust and his work with the underprivileged in the community.

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