The Tragedy of Bennie Cohen, Betty Schnadig Cohen’s Grandson

Betty Schnadig and Bernard Arie Cohen and two of their four children were murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. Their oldest child Arnold survived, but his story is also terribly tragic. Thank you once again to my cousin Betty, Arnold’s daughter, for sharing their story and the family photographs posted here.

Arnold was a traveling salesman, and he married Saartje Odenwald in Groningen, Holland, on October 18, 1936.1

Wedding of Saartje Odenwald and Arnold Cohen, 1936. Courtesy of Betty de Liever

Their son, Bernard Arie, known as Bennie, was born a year later on November 15, 1937, in Den Bosch, where Arnold and Saartje had settled after marrying. Den Bosch is about 150 miles southwest of Groningen. Bennie was named in honor of his paternal grandfather, who was, however, still living at that time. Here are some photographs of Arnold, Saartje, and Bennie:

Bernard Arie “Bennie” Cohen. Courtesy of Betty de Liever

Bernard Arie “Bennie” Cohen Courtesy of Betty de Liever

Saartje, Bennie, and Arnold Cohen. Courtesy of Betty de Liever

When I started to search for what happened to Arnold and his family during the Holocaust, I was perplexed. Arnold and his wife Saartje both survived, but their son Bennie did not. He was only six years old. How could it be that he was murdered at Auschwitz and both his parents survived?

Researching that question led me to a truly devastating story that is recorded on the Stolpersteine website devoted to this family. Arnold and Saartje knew a couple who were active in the Resistance movement, Piet Toxopeus and Ellen Dwars, who arranged for a man named Geevers to take little Bennie into hiding. Geevers took three thousand guilders from the Cohens, but never in fact took Bennie into his home. Somehow instead Bennie ended up in a town called Dordrecht with a woman named Els van As, who took many Jews into her house to hide them from the Nazis. Dordrecht is 40 miles west of Den Bosch, and Bennie’s parents had no idea that that was where he had been taken.

Meanwhile, Piet and Ellen hid Arnold and Saartje in Bennekom. That placed them about 57 miles northeast of Dordrecht where their son was being hidden. In August 1942, Arnold and Saartje were then placed with an older couple, the Laars, in Ede, a town near Bennekom, where they stayed safely until after the war.

But their son Bennie was not as fortunate, as told in the Stolpersteine website:

It happened on Monday evening, October 25, 1943: the insensitive police officer Herman Gerard Feodor Wolsink from Dordrecht pulled 5-year-old Bennie Cohen into the horror of the war.

Here and there in Dordrecht, Jewish hunters had been working all day long at addresses where people might be in hiding…..In the house of the Van As family on the Vlietweg, they find a radio set and a money box with twenty thousand guilders in it. …. The Jew hunters suspect that a Jewish child is also hiding at this address. The Hague detective Cornelis Johannes Kaptein therefore orders Wolsink to take a closer look at the children who are sleeping in the attic. And then this happens, according to a maternity nurse who lived in rooms with the Van As family, and who told it after the war.

Bennie was impressed to always say his name was De Koning, and not Cohen. When Wolsink asked the boy for his name, he said: “Bennie de Koning.”

“Wolsink then asked,” said the nurse, “what his mother’s name was and then the poor child said: ‘Saartje’. To which Wolsink said: “Haha, a Jew after all!” Then he pulled down the little boy’s pajama bottoms and said, “It’s a Jew.” This child had to come along then. 

About 3.5 months later this child was dead: deported to Auschwitz via camp Westerbork and exterminated there on 11 February 1944. His life had already ended at the age of six.

I ask you to look at these photographs of this beautiful little boy. How could anyone do this to anyone, let alone a six year old child?

Bernard “Bennie” Arie Cohen. Courtesy of Betty de Liever

Bernard “Bennie” Arie Cohen Courtesy of Betty de Liever

On November 9, 1945, Arnold Cohen posted this heartbreaking notice in the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, asking for information about his missing family members, including his son, his parents, his siblings, his nephews, and his in-laws, all of whom had been murdered by the Nazis:

Nieuw Israelietisch weekblad, November 9, 1945, found at https://tinyurl.com/yy2fyql6
09-11-1945

Arnold and Saartje somehow found the strength to go on. They had two daughters born after the war, and Arnold became a wholesaler of paper products in Groningen. Arnold died on December 15, 1967,2 and his wife Saartje on April 19, 1978.3 It’s hard to imagine how anyone finds hope after what they experienced, but having more children is certainly evidence that Arnold and Saartje believed that goodness and love can still exist and can prevail in this world.

De Telegraaf
December 16, 1967, found at https://tinyurl.com/y69tkn89

Thank you again to Bert de Jong and Rob Ruijs for all their help and especially to my cousin Betty for sharing these precious photographs and her family’s heartbreaking story. Betty lost her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and cousins, and her brother Bennie in the Holocaust.


  1. Arnold Cohen, Gender: Mannelijk (Male), Age: 32, Birth Date: abt 1904, Marriage Date: 15 okt 1936 (15 Oct 1936), Marriage Place: Groningen, Father: Bernard Arie Cohen, Mother: Betty Schnadig, Spouse: Saartje Odewald, BS Marriage, Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Civil Marriage Index, 1795-1950. Original data: BS Huwelijk. WieWasWie. https://www.wiewaswie.nl/: accessed 24 May 2016. 
  2. Arnold Cohen, Age: 63, Birth Date: abt 1904, Birth Place: Groningen, Death Date: 15 dec 1967, Death Place: Groningen, Father: Bernard Arie Cohen, Mother: Betty Schnadig, AlleGroningers; Den Haag, Nederland; Burgerlijke stand (overlijdensakten),Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Death Index, 1795-1969. Original data: BS Overlijden. WieWasWie. https://www.wiewaswie.nl/: accessed 24 May 2016. 
  3. Death notice, Nieuw Israelietisch weekblad, April 21, 1978, found at https://tinyurl.com/yxdljtf7 

31 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Bennie Cohen, Betty Schnadig Cohen’s Grandson

  1. As I look at my grandsons, Asher (age 6) and Ethan (age 4), I cannot imagine the fear that Bennie endured.
    My boys are in Jewish Day School in Atlanta and I pray the world does not know this hatred. 2020 is a trying and fearful time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my, heartbreaking story! I’m curious about the photo of Bennie on his bike – who is the gentleman in the bottom right hand corner?

    Like

  3. I am always amazed at the ability of some people to move forward and continue their lives after surviving such sorrow. I found a family member who lost his parents, siblings, wife and five children. But after the war he remarried and had several more children in Israel. Such fortitude!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How tragic for them to have done what they felt would protect their innocent child and then to have that happen. Wouldn’t they have constantly asked themselves, “why didn’t we keep him with us?!” So, so sad. Such evil deeds done.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How tragic…Like you, I can’t imagine dragging anyone, let alone and innocent boy, from out of hiding and consigning him to a concentration camp, all because his parents were of a different faith. Stories like this need to be told over and over until somehow, some way, we as a society learn from this and stop judging people based on gender, creed, or colour. We are all human beings and equal.

    How did those people sleep at night? Could they not imagine the same thing happening to their child/sibling/niece/nephew/neighbour? It’s truly beyond my comprehension.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The good news is that it is beyond comprehension for most people. The bad news is that there are still people who have no trouble killing people, even children, because of their race or religion.

      Like

  6. What a horror. I’m struck by Arnold’s newspaper post seeking information on his family’s whereabouts. I’m sure there were many similar advertisements pleading for information. Such a tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed there were. In fact, there was a German-language US Jewish newspaper Aufbau that ran pages and pages of such ads after the war. Just heartbreaking.

      Like

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