Jenny Cohen was born in Česká Lípa, Czechoslovakia on August 16, 1912. At the age of four, her father died. Her mother took a job as a housekeeper in a neighboring town in order to support her daughter, while Jenny went to live with her grandmother in Lovosice.
In 1938, Hitler took over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, including Lovosice. All of the Jews, including Jenny, lost their jobs. Jewish businesses were confiscated. Their Christian friends would not associate with them. Afraid to leave the house during the day, they went outside at night to breathe the fresh air.
Jenny, who had blond hair and blue eyes, moved to Hamburg, Germany hoping to “disappear” in the city and find work. She had several grueling jobs and in 1940 married Ludwig Cohen. Their son, Victor, was born later that year, and the young family began the arduous task of applying for visas to the U.S.
Even with family sponsors in the U.S., the Cohen’s lacked the funds to obtain visas. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) stepped in and procured the necessary visas and paid their fares. The Cohens escaped Germany, leaving behind their family and everything they owned. They traveled by train to Barcelona, Spain, only to discover that their visas had expired one day before their ship’s scheduled departure. Heartbroken, they were not permitted to leave. In Barcelona, the JDC found them a place to stay, but as illegal immigrants, they were not eligible for ration cards. They subsisted on one meal a day.
After countless efforts to renew their American visas, the Cohens were finally allowed to leave Spain on August 6, 1941. They boarded the Spanish freighter Navemar – a ship built to carry twenty-eight people that was converted to take on 1,000. The voyage was terrible and the food wretched. Many passengers died on the ship. Jenny struggled to keep baby Victor alive.
“We could only stand this voyage because it meant our salvation.”
Jenny and Ludwig settled in Kingston, New York, and Jenny gave birth to daughter Marian six months later. Their son, Victor, married a Birmingham girl and when Ludwig retired in 1978, they, too, moved to Birmingham. Jenny and Ludwig Cohen lost twenty-six family members in the Holocaust.
Addendum: Jenny Cohen passed away on January 5, 2015.