Jewish Families Gather in Germany to Remember a Holocaust Victim They Never Knew

Around 100 relatives of Karolina Cohn were found after she was identified by a pendant found in Sobibor

"Stolpersteine" (stumbling blocks) have been laid for Karolina Cohn and her family at a place where they once lived, Frankfurt, Germany, November 13, 2017.
Arne Dedert/AP

FRANKFURT – About 30 Jewish families from around the world are expected to participate in a special commemorative ceremony in Germany for a relative they never met – Karolina Cohn, who was murdered in the Holocaust. A golden memorial "stumbling stone" will be placed at the entrance to Cohn's Frankfurt home after she was identified as owner of a pendant discovered at Sobibor concentration camp.

The stumbling stone (Stolperstein) project, an initiative of artist Gunter Demnig, began about 20 years ago; stones bearing inscriptions with names and life dates are placed at the entrance to homes of Jews that had been expelled and sent to their death by the Nazis.

During an archaeological excavation last year of the Sobibor concentration camp, in what had been German-occupied Poland, a pendant was found that bore a July 3, 1929 birthdate pendant with the words "Mazal tov," the city Frankfurt, the Hebrew letter "hei" (standing for God) and stars of David.

A protracted archival and historical study into people born in Frankfurt on that date concluded that the pendant had belonged to Cohn, who was killed at age 14. Later her relatives were located in Germany, Britain, the U.S., Israel and other countries. Today they are convening at the city of her birth to convey their respects to her memory.

A Jewish girl's pendant found at a Nazi camp. Yad Vashem and the Israeli Antiquities Authority

Karolina Cohn's pendant was found at Sobibor by the Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi and his Polish colleague Wojciech Mazurek. The two found tens of thousands of items that had belonged to Jews murdered at the camp, including jewelry, clothing, cutlery and more. "The amount of items we found buried in the earth is inconceivable," Haimi told Haaretz.

Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Jewish Claims Conference, presenting a replica of Karolina Cohn's pendant during the ceremony, Frankfurt, Germany, November 13, 2017.
Arne Dedert/AP

Following Haaretz's report on the discovery of Cohn's pendant in January, amateur genealogists, including Chaim Motzen of Israel, began searching for more information about her life. He built a family tree based on documents and photographs from her life. Ultimately about 100 people related to her were found.

"We proved that her name and history have not been erased," Motzen told Haaretz.

Although her pendant was found at Sobibor, it is not clear whether Cohn met her death there. According to Yad Vashem, she was deported from Frankfurt to Minsk, Belarus on November 11, 1941, after which all trace of her vanished. She may have been murdered there, or survived and was sent to Sobibor in September 1943, when the Minsk ghetto, which had been created after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, was liquidated.

The stumbling stone to commemorate Karolina Cohn is placed at the entrance of her Frankfurt home.
Ofer Aderet

If she did reach Sobibor, it seems she lost her pendant on the way to the gas chambers. If she was murdered in Minsk, it's possible a family member or friend kept the pendant and lost it at the death camp upon their own murder.

This morning's ceremony, placing a "stumbling stone" by the entrance to what had been her home, is funded by the Claims Conference. Cohn had lived there with her parents and sister, who were also killed in the Holocaust.

Karolina Cohn's stumbling stone in Frankfurt, Germany.
Ofer Aderet