Holocaust survivor and partisan fighter Rabbi A. Romi Cohn was awarded an honorary doctorate degree at the Wagner College graduation on May 20.
In introducing Rabbi Cohn, Wagner President Richard Guarasci recounted that after the war, “Romi sought out returning survivors for any news of his family. One day he saw a man so emaciated, he was again brought to tears at the inhumanity of the Nazis. And then he heard the man call his name, and the voice was his father’s voice.” Rabbi Cohn’s sisters and brothers and mother were all slain by the Nazis.
He was 10 years old when Germans invaded Czechoslovakia in October 1938. As Nazis and Slovakians escalated deportations of Jews, he fled to Hungary in 1942 and at age 16, joined the Partisans in the mountains. Disguised as a Christian Jan Kovik, he participated in the capture of Nazi soldiers and earned the prestigious Silver Star of the International Partisans.
Since 1976, Rabbi Cohn has been a respected mohel (performing over 30,000 brit milah), businessman and philanthropist. He founded and has sponsored for over 30 years an annual Prize for Talmudic studies to discover and recognize promising young rabbis at yeshivas around the world.
Rabbi Cohn’s autobiography, “The Youngest Partisan: A Young Boy Who Fought the Nazis,” was published in 2002. He was motivated to publish it by the alarming rise of Holocaust denial around the world.
“We have to keep in mind today, we live in a free country and we say, ‘This could never happen here,’ which is a tremendous mistake,” Rabbi Cohn said. “I come from Czechoslovakia. Democracy in Slovakia was even superior to American democracy — total democracy. And if this could happen in a civilized country, overnight… Within 6 months, propaganda turned the population completely.”
Wagner College has a long history of protesting anti-Semitism, beginning eight days after Kristallnacht. Two years ago, the college launched a new Holocaust Education and Programming Center which has brought local Holocaust survivors to speak to over 1,000 students at six public, private and charter schools on Staten Island.