Rabbi Romi Cohn - Gone but not forgotten online


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Rabbi Romi Cohn

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Rabbi Avraham (“Romi”) Hakohen Cohn, a renowned mohel, or ritual circumciser, who for decades served as the head mohel of the circumcision program of F.R.E.E (Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe), passed away on his 91st Hebrew birthday, on March 24 at age 91, after contracting COVID-19. Over his long career, he is estimated to have performed circumcisions for more than 15,000 adults and 25,000 infants, mostly Soviet Jewish immigrants—for which he never took a dime. The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—blessed him that Avraham Avinu was at his right-hand side. He trained many aspiring mohelim and authored a comprehensive scholarly guide to the laws of circumcision titled Bris Avraham Hakohen. Born in Pressburg (Bratislava), on March 10, 1929, to his parents, Yom Tov and Malka Cohen, he was just 9 years old when Germany invaded in 1938 in what was then Czechoslovakia. When mass deportations of Jews began in 1942, his family was granted a special “economic exemption” and allowed to stay. As the war dragged on, young “Romi,” as he was known, was eventually smuggled over the border to Hungary. In the relative peace there, he was able to continue his studies in the local Pupa Chassidic yeshivah until 1944. When Hungary joined the Axis powers and began to deport its Jews, Cohn fled back to his native Czechoslovakia armed with forged Christian documents. Cohn used his false papers to help fellow refugees find shelter and supply them too with false Christian identities. When the Gestapo eventually caught up with him, arresting him on suspicion of bearing false documents, Cohn mounted a daring escape, joining up with the partisans hiding in the mountains. To reach them, he forged a German military travel order, sending him to the last German outpost before partisan-controlled territory. “[The Germans] all shook my hand and wished me luck. They thought I was going to go strike a blow for the Reich,” Cohn later recalled. His brigade drove the Germans into retreat while capturing, interrogating, and executing SS officers. Cohn recounted his heroic wartime exploits in his memoir The Youngest Partisan. He was instrumental in saving the lives of 56 families during the Holocaust and would later be awarded the Silver Star Medal of Honor by the United States Armed Forces in recognition of his valiance and courage. In 1950, Cohn left Europe for America. After some time in Canada, he moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he married his wife, Malvine. A successful construction developer, he founded a scholarship supporting Torah scholars and their families, whom he considered his offspring, as he and his wife merited no children of their own. In his later years, he lived in Staten Island, N.Y. A devoted Torah scholar, he was frequently seen immersed in study at a local Torah study hall. Cohn delivered the opening prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in late January 2020. His mother, two sisters, and two brothers perished in the Nazi death camps. He is survived by his brother, Rabbi Shlomo Kohn, a noted rabbi and scholar in Melbourne, Australia, in addition to other siblings, nieces, and nephews.