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News | May 10, 2024

Walter Reed Bethesda Observes Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust

By Bernard Little

“This country saved me, and I will never forget it,” said retired Army Col. Frank Cohn.

A Holocaust survivor, World War II veteran and liberator, Cohn served as guest speaker at Walter Reed’s candlelight observance of Holocaust Days of Remembrance on May 9 in Memorial Auditorium.

The observance called to memory the six million Jews and the others murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, as well as the survivors and those who liberated them. 

“We gather to remember the unimaginable atrocities of the Holocaust when the Nazis murdered six million Jews and 11 million people,” said Rabbi Randy Brown, the Jewish religious leader at Walter Reed. “As the horror fade deeper into our rearview mirror, hatemongers dare to deny the historical accuracy of Hitler’s final solution.”

Brown said survivors such as Cohn “chose to light the candle of hope instead of curse the darkness.” He added those tattooed by Nazis with the “indelible number seared of their flesh demonstrates what happens when we dehumanize the others amongst us. We need for them to tell their stories, and we need to tell their stories.”

The rabbi shared that Cohn was among the 550,000 American Jews who served in World War II. “Today, our Jewish community remains a steadfast part of our military forces throughout the world.”

He also added that this year, Holocaust Days of Remembrance observance is “a more somber and meaningful one. The tone is different. On Oct. 7 of last year, more than 1,200 Israeli Jews were brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists. This was the most vicious loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust.”

“Unlike 80 years ago when no country in the world would aid the plight of the Jewish people, we have the modern miracle of the state of Israel who cherishes its unique and unbreakable bond with the United States of America,” Brown said. “We pray for a swift resolution in hopes that Israelis and Palestinians can live safely in peace.”

“Never again is today,” Brown added. “Sadly, our society has not learned the lessons of the Shoah, Holocaust, and genocidal campaigns have occurred in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Darfur. Today, I stand humbly before you as a proud American Jew. Sadly, I had several members of my family perish in the Holocaust. Fortunately, most of my European family escaped and found refuge in America. Lady Liberty’s torch was a beacon of hope and still burns brightly in the harbor.”

“Curiosity generates understanding, and understanding generates empathy,” stated U.S. Navy Capt. (Dr.) Melissa Austin, director of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in her message to the Walter Reed team regarding the Holocaust Days of Remembrance.

In saluting Cohn during the program at Walter Reed, Austin said from listening to what he said and reading his biography and quotes from his interviews, it’s obvious he still believes in the goodness in humanity despite the horrors he has witnessed. “[You] spread goodness, light and joy in keeping with the Jewish tradition of emphasizing the eventual victory of light over darkness.”

Frank Cohn

Frank Cohn was born Franz Cohn on Aug. 2, 1925, in Breslau, Germany (present day Wroclaw, Poland). His father owned a successful sporting goods store, but the violent antisemitism of the Nazis impacted the family even before they came to power. In January 1927, Nazis brutally beat Frank’s uncle, Max Berdass, who later died in June 1930 of his injuries.
On April 1, 1933, the Nazis carried out a nation-wide economic boycott targeting Jewish-owned businesses, and the Cohn family sold their store.

In August 1938, Frank’s father, Martin left for a trip to the United States and sought to get his wife, Ruth, and Frank out of Nazi Germany. Not long after Martin had left the country, the Gestapo came to Cohn’s house looking for him. Frank shared that this terrified his mother, who was told to tell her husband to report to Gestapo headquarters when he returned from the United States. Ruth sent a letter to her husband warning him not to return to Germany.

Ruth soon sought a tourist visa to travel to the United States, and she and her young son, Frank, packed one suitcase each, and did not alert others, even friends, of their intention to leave the country. 

Frank recalled his mother’s fear that if immigration authorities knew that her husband was already in the United States, they would face challenges getting out of the country and to America, but on Oct. 30, 1938, the Cohns were reunited in New York. They were allowed to stay after President Roosevelt extended the visas of all Germans traveling to the United States on temporary visas after a wave of anti-Jewish violence, Kristallnacht, took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938.

Just a month after his 18th birthday in 1943, Frank was drafted into the U.S. Army, and during basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. He was assigned to the 87th Infantry Division. His military service took him to assignments in England, France and Belgium. At one point, he was tasked with overseeing German prisoners of war detailed to help pack and ship Nazi documents to the United States in support of future war crime prosecutions. While in Germany, he tried to find out the fates of his relatives who had remained behind. Eventually, he learned that 11 members of his extended family members, including his aunt, Else Berdass Lichtenstein, were killed in the Holocaust.

After the war, Frank completed his undergraduate degree in psychology and education at the City College of New York, and later, a master’s degree in police administration from Michigan State University. He continued to serve in the military for more than three and a half decades, achieving the rank of colonel before retiring as chief of staff of the Military District of Washington. He now volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he shares his story.

In a recent interview Cohn said, “There’s so much hate around and it’s the hate that we have to be careful of and that has to be stopped one way or the other. It has to be confronted and it has to be confronted early. If you let the hate fester long enough, then it gets so ingrained that you can’t get rid of it and [you get] things like what happened in Germany. The hate is not just the antisemitism. The antisemitism is like the canary in the mine. It’s a warning signal because pretty soon, the hate spreads to others, and others are pulled into this hate, and you don’t know if you are one of those who is hated or if you might become a hater.”

The U.S. Congress established Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual observance of the Holocaust. This year Yom HaShoah, which in English is called Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurred on May 6. In the United States, Days of Remembrance run from the Sunday before Yom HaShoah through the following Sunday, this year, May 5-12.

Although Jews were the primary Holocaust victims, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), people with mental and physical disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered oppression and death under Nazi Germany.

For more information about the Days of Remembrance, visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website at
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