(January 29, 2020 / JNS) A 90-year-old rabbi who survived the Holocaust delivered the opening prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
“As a young boy of 13 years, I was condemned to be dead, to be murdered, along with my entire family, and including my 3-year-old little sister, by one evil man, may his name be erased forever,” said Rabbi Avraham Hakohen “Romi” Cohn as part of his opening prayer.
“But my life was spared; I was saved my Father. By you, oh Lord, the Father of the Universe, who brought me to the shores of this beautiful country, the United States of America, the land of the free, where I found a safe and new home.”
He then acknowledged the country, president, vice president, Congress and his representative, Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), who was the one who invited him as guest chaplain.
In a speech on the House floor, Rose said, “I’m especially honored to welcome Rabbi Cohn this week as we remember the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Rabbi Cohn’s career is merely the continuation of a life spent fighting for the Jewish faith.”
“Rabbi Cohn saw how a democracy can be corrupted into a fascist dictatorship, and what happens when anti-Semitism is allowed to fester,” he continued. “Sadly, across the country, we see rising hatred and anti-Semitism. Rabbi Cohn’s legacy reminds us to never accept bigotry, not when we see it in the street and not in the halls of Congress.”
Cohn was born in 1929 in Pressburg in what was then Czechoslovakia. In 1942, when the Nazis invaded, his parents managed to smuggle him over the border to Hungary. Cohn attended the Pupa Yeshiva, the elite Torah university at the time.
After the Nazis invaded Hungary two years later, Cohn returned to Czechoslovakia to join the underground. He was just 16 and became instrumental in saving 56 families during the Holocaust. He was later awarded the Silver Star Medal of Honor in recognition of his valor.
Cohn has written a book about his experiences, The Youngest Partisan.
His mother, two sisters and two brothers perished in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
In 1950, he left Eastern Europe for North America—first to Canada and eventually to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he met his wife, Malvine.
He became a rabbi and a mohel who has made a point to train young mohels as well. Cohn is the author of Bris Avraham Hakohen, an internationally recognized text on ritual circumcision, and serves as chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision.
Most recently, he published The Ribnitzer Rebbe, which tells the story of his mentor, Rabbi Chaim Zanvil Abramovitz.
Cohn is also a real estate developer, beginning work in the construction industry when he got to New York. He headed a company that went on to build 3,500 homes in Staten Island.
In recognition of his service to the community, Wagner College on the island awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
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