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 

Tragedy and Escape: The Story of Helene Schnadig Cohn and Her Children

We saw in the last post that Henriette Katzenstein Schnadig’s youngest child Elsa survived the Holocaust as did her husband Salomon Cats and their two sons. Elsa’s two older sisters Helene and Betty were not as fortunate.

Elsa’s sister Helene Schnadig and her husband Emil Cohn were both murdered by the Nazis. According to their residency registration cards at the Amsterdam archives, Helene and Emil moved from Hamburg to Hilversum in the Netherlands on January 2, 1939, and then to Rotterdam on September 11, 1939, ten days after the start of World War II. They then returned to Hilversum on November 9, 1940. Eventually they returned to Amsterdam on July 17, 1942.

Source reference Archive cards , archive number 30238 , inventory number 721 Municipality : Amsterdam Period : 1939-1960, https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22schnadig%22%7D, Amsterdam Archives Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchiev

According to a Judenrat card found in the Arolsen Archives, Emil and Helene were taken to the detention camp at Westerbork on January 8, 1943. From there they were taken to the concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, on January 20, 1944. Then on October 28, 1944, they were taken from Terezin to the death camp at Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Emil was 74, Helene 63.

1 Incarceration Documents / 1.1 Camps and Ghettos / 1.1.42 Theresienstadt Ghetto /
1.1.42.2 Card File Theresienstadt / 4966533/ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

Miraculously, however, Helene and Emil Cohn’s four children all survived, although my information about them is somewhat limited. Meta, their oldest child, was married to Salomon Pregers, who was born in Rotterdam on October 8, 1885, son of Salomon Pregers and Isabelle Therese de Groot.1 Meta and Salomon were married in Hamburg on May 14, 1926, according to their Amsterdam residency card.

Source reference Archive cards , archive number 30238 , inventory number 159 Municipality : Amsterdam Period : 1939-1960, https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22meta%20cohn%22%7D, Amsterdam Archives Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchiev

That residency card indicates that Salomon and Meta came from Hamburg to Hilversum on June 3, 1926, a few weeks after their wedding. They remained in the Netherlands, eventually moving to Amsterdam in February 1943, not long after Meta’s parents were taken to Westerbork.

Salomon and Meta were registered with the Judenrat in Amsterdam, as reflected on these three cards. It appears that Salomon had been a teacher at a Jewish school. I can’t decipher much more than that.

1 Incarceration Documents / 1.2 Miscellaneous / 1.2.4 Various Organizations / 1.2.4.2 Index cards from the Judenrat (Jewish council) file in Amsterdam / Reference Code 124200008/ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

1 Incarceration Documents / 1.2 Miscellaneous / 1.2.4 Various Organizations / 1.2.4.2 Index cards from the Judenrat (Jewish council) file in Amsterdam / Reference Code 124200008/ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

1 Incarceration Documents / 1.2 Miscellaneous / 1.2.4 Various Organizations / 1.2.4.2 Index cards from the Judenrat (Jewish council) file in Amsterdam / Reference Code 124200008/ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

UPDATE: Bert de Jong pointed out that both these cards have the designation “gesperrt,” meaning that Meta and Salomon had been marked as exempt from deportation by the Judenrat, Salomon because of his former occupation as a teacher and his education, and Meta based on her husband’s exemption.

UPDATE from Rob Ruijs: Rob examined these three cards very carefully and provided some analysis. One interesting observation he made about Salomon Pregers was that he may have grown up in poverty and achieved success through higher education.  Rob also deciphered much of that third card with three entries for February 2, 1943. It appears that Salomon (and presumably Meta) were moving between Amsterdam and the town of Den Bosch, which is about an hour south of Amsterdam or that there was some confusion about where they were living.

The Amsterdam residency cards above indicate that both Meta and Salomon left for Germany (Duitschland) in March 1945. I would think that means they were deported then since I cannot imagine that any Jew would have gone to Germany willingly in March, 1945, but I have no record of any deportation, and I know that they survived the war.  Meta was listed as a person searching for relatives in an article in the June 15, 1945, issue of Aufbau. The words at the top translate as:

“The following list which we have received from the ITA [the International Tracing Agency] only reveals a part of the Jews found in Holland after the final liberation who are looking for relatives. In cases in which a closer address of the searcher is not given, they can be reached through the Red Cross.”

Meta Cohn Pregers in Aufbau June 15, 1945, p. 25, http://archive.org/stream/aufbau111945germ#page/n387/mode/1up

Although Meta and Salomon thus survived the war, it was not for very many years. Meta Cohn Pregers died on March 21, 1952, in Hilversum.2 Her husband Salomon Pregers died a month later on April 22, 1952, in Hilversum.3 He was 66 when he died, Meta was only 51. I have been unable to find a record of any children.

UPDATE: Thanks to Rob Ruijs for alerting me to the fact that there were death notices for Meta and Salomon that I could find on Delpher.nl. Given that neither death notice mentioned children, it appears that they did not have any.

New Israelite weekly
28-03-1952

New Israelite weekly
April 25, 1952

Meta’s younger brother Siegbert immigrated to Brazil in 1939; he arrived with his four-year-old daughter Ursula. I could not locate a woman traveling with him who might have been his wife, nor I have I yet found any further records for Siegbert or Ursula.

Siegbert Cohn, Digital GS Number: 004542471, Ancestry.com. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965

The third child of Helene and Emil Cohn, their daughter Hertha Johanna, married James Horwitz, a kosher butcher, on February 21, 1928, in Hamburg. James was born on November 10, 1895, in Hamburg, the son of Hermann Horwitz and Johanna Tannenberg.4 James and Hertha immigrated to Rotterdam inthe Netherlands from Berlin on March 15, 1939, and to Amsterdam in March of 1940.

Source reference Archive cards , archive number 30238 , inventory number 367 Municipality : Amsterdam Period : 1939-1960, https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22james%20horwitz%22%7D, Amsterdam Archives Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchiev

On July 17, 1940, they were both taken to the detention camp in Westerbork. According to entries in the Terezin Memorial database, both James and Hertha were deported to the Terezin concentration camp on September 4, 1944. James was then taken from Terezin to Auschwitz on September 29, 1944, but Hertha was not. The Terezin Memorial entry indicates that she was liberated from Terezin and survived.

1 Incarceration Documents / 1.1 Camps and Ghettos / 1.1.42 Theresienstadt Ghetto /
1.1.42.2 Card File Theresienstadt /Ghetto Theresienstadt Card File
Reference Code 11422001/ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives

As for James’ fate, the records conflict. Some say he was killed at the death camp in Mauthausen in Austria on April 6, 1945.5 One nephew filed a Page of Testimony saying he was shot near Berlin in March 1945 as the camp inmates were being marched out of Auschwitz.  In either event, James Horwitz was murdered by the Nazis in the spring of 1945 right before the war ended.

In 1957, Hertha was living in Rotterdam when she traveled to Brazil, presumably to visit her brother Siegbert. She listed her marital status as “casada” or married, and the surname Van Thijn was added to her name, so Hertha must have remarried after the war. That is the only information I’ve found about her at this point.

UPDATE: Thank you to Rob Ruijs for reminding me to check Delpher.nl where I found a death notice for Salomon van Thijn published by H. J. van Thijn-Cohen, obviously Hertha. The death notice reads in part, “With sadness I announce the passing of my beloved caring husband Salomon van Thijn in his 87th year, March 18, 1982.” This death notice does not mention children or refer to Salomon as a father so I assume they, like Meta and Salomon Pregers, did not have children.

NRC Handelsblad
20-03-1982

Digital GS Number: 004916498, Ancestry.com. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965

Lissy Sitta Cohn, the fourth and youngest of the Cohn siblings, ended up in England during the war. In 1939 she was living in Birmingham, working as a domestic servant.

Lissy Cohn, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/5600D, Enumeration District: QBUI, Ancestry.com. 1939 England and Wales Register

Lissy Cohn, enemy alien registration, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/14
Piece Number Description: 014: Internees at Liberty in UK 1939-1942: Cohn-Cz
Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945

She may have returned to Germany after the war because in 1946 she immigrated to Brazil and listed her last residence as Hamburg and her nationality as Alema or German. However, her passport was issued from London. She indicated that her intention was to stay in Brazil permanently and that she was a nurse (enfermeira). As with her siblings, I have no further details about Lissy’s life.

Digital GS Number: 004542185
Source Information
Ancestry.com. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965

Thus, although the Nazis murdered Helene Schnadig and Emil Cohn, they did not murder any of their four children. But the stories of those four children are not entirely complete. I do not know whether there are living descendants of Helene and Emil, so there is still much work to be done.

 

 


  1.  Salomon Pregers, Birth Date: 1885, Birth Place: Rotterdam, Father: Salomon Pregers, Mother: Isabelle Therese de Groot, Stadsarchief Rotterdam; Den Haag, Nederland; BS Birth, Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Birth Index, 1784-1917. Original data: BS Geboorte. WieWasWie. https://www.wiewaswie.nl/: accessed 24 May 2016. Child:
    Salomon Pregers, Mother: Isabelle Therese de Groot Father: Salomon Pregers
    Date of birth: 8-10-1885, Birthplace:  Rotterdam Access number: 999-01 Civil Registry Rotterdam, birth certificates, Inventory number: 1885D, Folio number: d045v Deed number: 1885.3822 
  2.  Meta Cohn, Age: 50, Birth Date: abt 1902, Birth Place: Hamburg, Death Date: 21 mrt 1952 (21 Mar 1952), Death Place: Hilversum, Father: Emil Cohn, Mother: Helene Schnadig, Noord-Hollands Archief; 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.  Salomon Pregers, Age: 66, Birth Date: abt 1886, Birth Place: Rotterdam, Death Date: 22 apr 1952, Death Place: Hilversum, Father: Salomon Pregers, Mother: Isabella Therese de Groot, Noord-Hollands Archief; 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. 
  4. James Horwitz birth record, Year Range and Volume: 1895 Band 06, Ancestry.com. Hamburg, Germany, Births, 1874-1901. Original data:Best. 332-5 Standesämter, Personenstandsregister, Sterberegister, 1876-1950, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg, Deutschland. 
  5. James Israel Horwitz, Birth Date: 10 Nov 1895, Birth Place: Hamburg, Mauthaus #: 134330, Nationality: staatenlos (Stateless), Arrest Reason: Jude (Jew), Night and Fog: No, Profession: Fleischer (Butcher), Death Date: 6 Apr 1945, Arrival Date: 26-Feb-45
    Source: AMM E/13/12/9; Y/36;Mauthausen Gedenkstätte. Austria, Mauthausen/Gusen Concentration Camp Death Record Books , 1938-1945. The National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland; Microfilm: A3355; ARC: 596972; Title: Lists and Registers of German Concentration Camp Inmates, 1946 – 1958; Record Group: 242; Record Group Title: National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized, 1675 – 1958, Record Description: Records on Prisoners, Gat-Ji, Source Information
    Ancestry.com. Germany, Concentration Camp Records, 1946-1958. Also, some records at Yad Vashem show that James Horwitz was at Mauthausen. His Stolpersteine in Berlin also says that he died at Mauthausen. 

All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

W.C. Fields, who was born in Philadelphia, used to make fun of his birthplace as a staid and boring place by threatening to have the line, “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” as the epitaph on his gravestone.  (Apparently, that threat was never carried out.)  Philadelphia has often been overshadowed by New York to its north and by Washington to its south.  I remember traveling to Philadelphia to visit my relatives when I was a child, my siblings and I fidgeting in the back seat of the car as my father fought through the traffic on the ugly New Jersey Turnpike.

English: W.C. Fields

English: W.C. Fields (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My grandmother Eva Cohen and her second husband Frank Crocker lived in what I remember as a small apartment in Philadelphia, and somehow it was always hot and humid whenever we visited.  I was only nine when my grandmother died, so my memories are somewhat vague, but I do remember watching a baseball game with Poppy Frank, as we called him, discussing the merits of Sandy Koufax versus Don Drysdale (the Phillies were obviously playing the Dodgers that particular visit).  We would sit and visit for a while, have lunch or dinner, and then pile back in the car, suffer through the Jersey Turnpike again, fidgeting and bickering in the backseat.  So I guess I could relate to W.C. Fields’ sentiments about his hometown.  Somehow I associated Philadelphia with long car rides, being tortured by my siblings, and hot, humid weather.  I wish I could remember more about my grandmother, but as a child, I was focused on childish things. Well, and baseball.  As I wrote before, I remember her as beautiful, reserved, and very dignified, a true gentle-woman in both senses of the word.

So given my somewhat skewed views of the City of Brotherly Love, I did wonder why my Cohen relatives (and in fact all of my father’s lines) ended up in Philadelphia.  They sailed into New York City—why did they leave the Greatest City in the World to go to its poor stepsibling to the south? I asked my father, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, this question the other day, and he said something about William Penn and how Philadelphia was a Quaker city and probably more tolerant of Jews.

I decided to do some research to answer a couple of questions: What was Philadelphia like for Jews in the 1840s and 1850s when the Cohens arrived? Where did they live in the city, and what were the socioeconomic conditions like in those areas? What drew them there instead of New York or some other American city?

I found a wonderful resource, a book by Robert P. Swierenga, a historian who has published several books about the Dutch in the United States.  The book I relied on is titled The Forerunners: Dutch Jewry in the North American Diaspora (Wayne State University Press 1994), and in it Swierenga traced the immigration of Dutch Jews to America and their settlements in several US cities, including Philadelphia.  I read the chapter on Philadelphia and learned not only about the Dutch Jews who settled there, but more generally about the history of Jews in Philadelphia.  After reading this chapter, I better understand why the Cohen family decided to settle there.

Philadelphia had one of the earliest Jewish communities in the United States.  In 1776 it had the third largest Jewish population of American cities, after New York and Charleston; there were 300 Jews living in Philadelphia at that time.  That number grew to 200 families by 1778 as Jews sought refuge there during the Revolutionary War.  The population was largely Sephardic, and the first synagogue was formed in 1782, Congregation Mikveh Israel, an Orthodox Sephardic synagogue.  Once the war ended, however, many of the Jews returned to their prior homes, and by 1790 there were only 25 Jewish families or about 150 people.  (Swierenga, pp. 118-119)

English: Former home of Mikveh Israel Synagogu...

Former home of Mikveh Israel Synagogue

There was a growing number of non-Sephardic Jews settling in Philadelphia after the Revolution, however, as immigrants from Germany, Poland and the Netherlands began to arrive, and in 1790 these people formed a new synagogue, Rodeph Shalom, which would adhere to Ashkenazi practices.  Rodeph Shalom was the first Ashkenazi synagogue in North America, and most of its first congregants were Dutch.  (Swierenga, pp. 119-120)

Rodeph Shalom Synagogue on the NRHP since Augu...

Rodeph Shalom Synagogue on the NRHP since August 7, 2007. At 607–615 North Broad St., in the Poplar neighborhood of Philadelphia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Jewish population really started to grow in the early 19th century.  In 1820, there were 450 Jews in Philadelphia; in 1830 there were 730.  By 1840, there were 1500, and then there was a huge surge to 6000 by 1850 and to 10,000 by 1860.  This, of course, was the period my Cohen relatives began to arrive in Philadelphia—between about 1848 and 1851.  In fact, according to Swierenga, a substantial number of these Jewish immigrants were Dutch Jews.  (p. 120)

In his discussion of Dutch Jews, Swierenga included not only those who came directly from the Netherlands (meaning primarily Amsterdam), but also those, like my ancestors, who had emigrated from Amsterdam to England before coming to America.  Based on his research, he concluded that for the most part the Dutch Jews who came to Philadelphia tended to come directly from Amsterdam whereas those who had first stopped in London tended to end up in New York.  Swierenga found that in 1850 and 1860 there were only two Dutch Jewish families in Philadelphia who had had children born in England. (Swierenga, p. 125)  Was he counting my relatives? Hart Levy Cohen’s children were born in England, but did they count as “children?” On the other hand, Jacob’s daughter Fannie was born in England, and although his later children were born in the US, his family must have been one of those two families.

In fact, this screenshot from Appendix III in Swierenga’s book, captioned “Dutch Jewish Household Heads and Working Adults in Philadelphia 1850, 1860 and 1870,” shows that Swierenga did count Hart Cohen as one of those Dutch Jews.

Appendix III from Swierenga. The Forerunners

Appendix III from Swierenga. The Forerunners

Based on this data as compared to his findings that there was a greater number of Dutch Jewish families in New York with children born in England, Swierenga reached the following conclusion: “Clearly, the Dutch Jews in Philadelphia had been better off economically in the Netherlands, and they immigrated earlier than those settling in New York, who out of economic necessity spent a longer sojourn in London.  For the Philadelphia Dutch Jews, a London stopover or two-stage migration was not as necessary or desirable.” (p. 126)

I found this observation very interesting. Obviously, my ancestors did make that two-stage migration.  Did they do that because they could not afford to get directly to the US, or did they originally plan to stay in London?  Does this mean that Hart and Rachel were not as well-off as many of the other young couples who left Amsterdam at the end of the 18th century?

The Dutch Jewish community was located in the south side of Philadelphia. With the large wave of German immigrants in the 1840s, the Dutch Jews had moved south to Wards 1 through 5, and primarily Wards 4 and 5, located between what is now Broad Street and the Delaware River and South Street to the south and 2d Street to the north.  Swierenga described these two wards as slums.  Ward 4 is where Jacob and his family lived for many years at 136 South Street.   Was he living in a slum with his large family and three servants? It seems unlikely.  The neighborhood must have been somewhat economically diverse to attract what Swierenga himself had described as a fairly comfortable Dutch Jewish population.  (pp. 139-146)

This growing community of Dutch Jews eventually decided to form their own synagogue and leave Rodeph Shalom, which had become increasingly made up of congregants who had emigrated from Germany.  Also, Rodeph Shalom and Mikveh Israel as well as a third synagogue, Beth Israel, were all located in the north side of Philadelphia.  (Swierenga, pp. 127-129) Thus, in 1852 the Dutch Jewish families formed their own synagogue, B’nai Israel, on the south side where Jacob and Rachel were living in 1850. (pp. 130-145)

Between the 1850s and 1880, however, the Dutch Jews increasingly left the south side of Philadelphia and moved to neighborhoods further north.  Those who remained could not support their own synagogue, and B’nai Israel was closed in 1879.  By the end of the 19th century, the Dutch Jewish community had integrated into the larger Jewish community and had disappeared as a separate cultural subgroup.  (pp. 135, 320)  As I move forward from 1860 in tracing my Cohen relatives, I will keep in mind this shift to see whether or not they were a part of that trend.

After reading this material and understanding more about the history of the Jewish community in Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century, I better understand why my ancestors chose Philadelphia.  It had a distinct Dutch Jewish community, which might have been very attractive to them after the Chut experience as outsiders in London.  It had a long history of a diverse but cooperative overall Jewish population.  And perhaps, like today, it seemed less overwhelming and more affordable than New York City.

I now read, “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” in a whole new light.

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The Brick Dyke in Amsterdam?

Before I write about the next phase in the life of Hart Levy Cohen and his children, I want to explain what I have learned or rather tried to learn about his life and his family before he came to London.  From the English census of 1841, I knew he was born in “foreign parts” outside of Great Britain.  The 1851 English census was more specific; it said that he was born in Holland.  The 1860 US census was even more specific than that.  It reported his place of birth as Amsterdam.

photo 1 (3)IMG_1060

Knowing his Hebrew name, his father’s Hebrew name, his English name and his approximate year of birth, I thought that I would be able to find some record of Hart’s birth and of his family in Holland fairly easily.  When I first found this information over a year ago, I searched every way I could on a site called Akevoth, which has a huge database and lots of information on Dutch Jewry.  It’s a wonderful resource, but I was soon overwhelmed.  There were just too many people with the names Hart(og), Levie, and Cohen or some combination of two of those three.  I had no way to figure out whether any of those people were my relatives.  I’ve just looked again, and now I remember why I was overwhelmed.  It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Last time I had not known about FamilySearch, so I have now looked there as well, and once again, I have not found anything definitive there or on ancestry.com.

I’ve also had a chance to try and find evidence of Hart not only online, but also in Amsterdam itself.  Last spring we took a weeklong trip to Amsterdam.  We had an amazing time and loved the city.  It was not a trip we took for genealogical purposes, but rather a general interest trip to see the art, walk the canals, visit the museums, drink the beer, and learn about the history of Amsterdam.  Part of that history is, of course, the history of the Jews in Amsterdam, and in addition to an incredibly moving visit to Anne Frank’s house, we also took a walking tour of Jewish Amsterdam with Jeannette Loeb, a Dutch Jew herself with expertise in the history of the Jews in Amsterdam.

From Jeannette and other sources, I’ve learned some of the long history of the Jews in Amsterdam.  Like England and like the United States, the earliest Jews in Amsterdam were Sephardic—traders from Portugal and Spain. When the Netherlands established their independence from Spain, religious freedom was one of the important tenets of the new state, allowing not only Protestants but also Jews to practice their religion.  The Sephardic Jewish community became well-integrated both socially and economically in Amsterdam, although Jews were not given the full legal rights of citizens.

Portuguese Synagogue Amsterdam

Portuguese Synagogue Amsterdam

It was not until the late 17th century that Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Poland began to settle in Amsterdam to escape persecution and poverty.  These immigrants were helped by the established Sephardic community, although the two communities retained their own languages, practices and synagogues.  Although they  started off poverty-stricken, the Ashkenazi community became more economically stable over the years.  In 1792 Jews were finally given full legal rights in the Netherlands, certainly late but nevertheless a full forty years before Jews were given such rights in England.

Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Mus...

Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) in Amsterdam, Holland. {| cellspacing=”0″ style=”width:400px; text-align:left; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:1px; direction:ltr;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:22px; height:22px;” | 20px|link= | style=”font-size:8pt; padding:1pt; line-height:1.1em;” | This is a photo of rijksmonument number 265 |} 00000265 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Before World War II, there were 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam, about 10% of the overall population.  Almost all of them were killed during the Holocaust, leaving only 20,000 Jews in Amsterdam after the war.  Today there is a small Jewish community in Amsterdam, but nothing like that large and active Jewish community that existed before the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial Amsterdam

Holocaust Memorial Amsterdam

Thus, in the late 18th century when Hart was born, the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Amsterdam was fairly well established, and Jews had full legal rights by the time he was a young adult in 1792.  Why did he leave? What was the economic situation of his family? Who was his family?

While we were on our walking tour, I asked Jeannette Loeb where I might be able to get some help in tracking my Dutch ancestor, Hart Levy Cohen.  She suggested that I visit the Amsterdam city archives and ask for some help in searching the city records.  I followed her advice and spent a couple of hours there with an archivist who specialized in Dutch Jewish genealogy.  He sifted through many books of records of births and circumcisions, but was unable to come up with anything definitive.  As he explained to me, until 1812 most Ashkenazi Jews in Amsterdam (and in Europe generally) did not have surnames.  People were known only by their patronyms, that is, by their Hebrew name paired with their father’s Hebrew name.  Because of that, it is nearly impossible to identify specific families.  Rather, there are just a very large number of people with very similar names.  Hart was probably Hartog in Amsterdam, a Dutch version of Hirts, and there were many Hartog Cohens.  Cohen was also probably a patronymic label, referring to the Cohanim tribe, not a specific family.

Thus, for now I am going to once again put aside any attempt to find Hart Levy Cohen’s father or other relatives and ancestors.  Perhaps I will have another chance to go to Amsterdam or find some other clues to help me sift through all the data.  Perhaps there will be some hole in this “brick dyke” that will allow me to find my ancestors.  For now instead I will bring the story forward and trace Hart’s children and grandchildren all the way to my father and to his children.

 

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