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.