Herbert Kohn

Journey curated by: Museum of History and Holocaust Education

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1926, Herbert Kohn could trace his family’s lineage in the region back to the 1400s. His father, Leo, was a World War I veteran and worked in the leather business. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Kohn was expelled from public school because he was Jewish. He experienced anti-Semitism on a daily basis as his friends rejected him, stores barred his entry, and his father’s job contract was terminated.

In November 1938 Kohn’s father was arrested by the Nazis during Kristallnacht or the “Night of Broken Glass” and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was only released when the Nazis learned of his distinguished World War I service a few weeks later. Upon his return, the Kohn family obtained papers to leave the country, arriving first in England. They immigrated to the United States in 1940 with the help of a relative and settled on a farm in Demopolis, Alabama. Kohn went to work on the farm alongside African Americans who were experiencing the effects of racism and segregation in the American South similarly to Jews in Germany.

After high school Kohn volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in order to fight the Nazis, but he arrived in Europe as the war was ending. He became a reservist and eventually attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Kohn earned a degree in agriculture from Auburn University but soon transitioned to accounting. After establishing himself in business and moving to Atlanta, he joined a company that provided affordable housing to low-income people. A prominent civic leader and volunteer, Kohn has been recognized for his service to the community. He maintains a steady schedule of speaking engagements related to his experiences in the Holocaust.

Watch Herbert Kohn's Legacy Series videos here.

Locations for Journey

“I have a family tree that goes back to 1490, so we lived in Germany a—500 years my family, over 500 years. We were steeped in German culture, European culture: music, art, literature, Goethe, Schiller. Both of my grandparents and my father…

“And that particular day we walked to school together two miles. We got to school, got in our seats, and remember I was six years old. The teacher said “Are there any Jews in this class?...Raise your hand.” I raised my hand proudly, and…

“The next morning, I was standing by my gate and waited for the group to came by, and sure enough the group came by, and the leader of the group was my best friend who I played ball with in the empty lot every day. And he saw me standing at the…

“Life became more difficult. It was a period, actually involved four different periods, the Holocaust. It lasted from 1933 to 1945. The first period was Discrimination, and then it turned into Segregation, and it came on when the laws passed…

“Every public place, theater, restaurant, had the same signs on them. Jews were segregated completely, cause after I was kicked out of school later on, a year later, about six months later, I went to a segregated school. There were—they…

"When the Storm Troopers came to our house, knock on the door, standing next to my mother. When she opened the door, I can see him with his Nazi uniform on: swastika on his arm, leather boots, leather belt, leather shoulder straps…And he came…

“My father actually came back three weeks later, I happened to open the door and I didn’t recognize him at first. His hair had turned white, he had lost thirty pounds in three weeks. He had been subject to unspeakable abuse. Yes, he was taken…

“In England, my mother and father lived in one room, my brother was able to get a job learning a trade, and room and board that way, and I was in a refugee boarding school run by the B’nai, B’rith organization…and went to public school from…

"We were able to leave there one year later, in April 1940, because our visa became valid, and were able to come to America and started life from the beginning in America.” “When he first came to America, we came across New York, and we…

"when we went to England, the only thing we could take with us was the equivalent of about ten dollars each, one ring and one watch…each. If we had—I mean, we were children. I had—I think—I didn’t have no rings, but I had a watch. So…

"The day I was eighteen, I was inducted into the military. And I actually became a citizen afterwards, in the military, in a place outside of Jacksonville, Florida, I was sworn into the—as an American citizen. I stayed in the military…

"Two days after I arrived there, the war was over. Everybody cried—everybody cheered, and I cried on this day. Everybody was cheering, and I cried, because I couldn’t fight the Nazis, and I…Did so much damage to my family and my friends…

“We have a common obligation to make this a better world for the privilege of living on this earth, of living in this world. And we gotta work at it to do that. We gotta make things happen to make this a better world. We gotta serve the…