Page last updated at 22:46 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 23:46 UK

Blind survivor tells of Holocaust

Hans Cohn with his wife Stefi and guide dog
Hans Cohn is married to Stefi, also blind and a Holocaust survivor

The UK is holding its first memorial to disabled holocaust victims. One survivor who will be attending is 85-year-old Hans Cohn from Willesden Green, north-west London.

Born in Berlin in 1923, Hans Cohn was blinded after he was hit in the school playground by a member of the Hitler Youth because he was Jewish.

The single blow caused a retinal detachment in one eye.

As a Jew, no ophthalmic specialist in Germany would treat him, so by the time he underwent two, unsuccessful, operations in the Netherlands it was too late.

A year later he developed sympathetic ophthalmia in the other eye. He was blind by the age of 12.

Because no German school would take him, his father, a lawyer and World War I veteran, decided to send him to a school for the blind - Worcester College - in England.

I was never told what happened to my parents during Kristallnacht. My mother never told me and I never asked
Hans Cohn

It was a decision which saved Hans' life.

His father was not so lucky. He died in Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942 "from the consequences of a medical experiment".

But Mr Cohn's memories of his early years in Berlin are not ones of persecution.

"I was always very sheltered, so I didn't experience any unpleasantness. We were sheltered from the worst.

"Because my father had an office, not a shop, he wasn't obviously Jewish - we weren't conspicuous."

Father's decision

Indeed, his summer holidays in Berlin in 1938 were not out of the ordinary.

But it was the last time he met his father, and just a year later his mother joined him in England, as a "domestic".

In November 1938 Kristallnacht - the night of systematic violence against Jews which served as a prelude to the Holocaust - was carried out across Germany.

"I was never told what happened to my parents during Kristallnacht. My mother never told me and I never asked," says Mr Cohn.

I am one of the decreasing number of survivors and I want to do my bit and do what I can
Hans Cohn

His mother fled, but his father resolved to stay. As a lawyer he would have found it hard to find work abroad and he wanted to pay his son's school fees for as long as possible.

After the outbreak of war, these fees were paid through the International Red Cross. And it was through the Red Cross that Mr Cohn and his mother learned his father had been sent to a concentration camp in 1942.

Now a semi-retired physiotherapist, Mr Cohn will be visiting the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire on Sunday to remember the disabled victims of the Holocaust.

He knows several blind people in Germany forcibly sterilised by the Nazis, he says.

One was blinded in a road accident, "So there was no reason why he should have blind children," Mr Cohn notes.

He feels, he has his part to play in making sure the Holocaust's victims are not forgotten.

"I am one of the decreasing number of survivors and I want to do my bit and do what I can."


SEE ALSO
Holocaust memorial journey ends
08 May 08 |  Europe
In pictures: Holocaust remembrance
01 May 08 |  In Pictures

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