Herman Cohn, A “Mayor” of Hyde Park

Left to right: David, Herman and Howard Cohn enjoy a beer in Munich, Germany.
Left to right: David, Herman and Howard Cohn enjoy a beer in Munich, Germany.

 

 

Herman Cohn died Monday, March 21, in Hyde Park. He was 94.

The life of Herman Cohn was a life well-lived. He served his country bravely, he served his community tirelessly and he served his men’s store customers with flair. In Cohn’s heyday, some called him the unofficial “Mayor of Hyde Park,” but he was most proud to be called patriarch of the Cohn family.

Cohn was born in Germany on September 8, 1921, and lived a comfortable childhood until his world was turned upside down by Nazi atrocities. He was lucky to make his escape in 1939, on the last Kindertransport. The following year, he and his family settled in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where other family members had moved. Cohn wasted no time in getting acclimated. He also wasted no time in courting his soon-to-be-wife, Elsa Kahn.

Herman Cohn
Herman Cohn

When the U.S. entered WWII, Cohn enlisted in the army and became a valuable asset, since he spoke German and knew the landscape in Germany. Right after D-Day, he landed on Omaha Beach and, later, his troop was one of those sent to liberate Dachau Concentration Camp, with no idea of the horrors to be found there. Cohn’s letters to Kahn eloquently recounted his experiences. He felt strongly that he had to say the unspeakable and bring these horrors to light.

Some years ago, Cohn was interviewed for Steven Spielberg’s “Shoah.” Last year, he was interviewed and showcased in Emmanuel Rotstein’s “The Liberators” for The History Channel – Germany. Along with other liberators and survivors of Dachau, Cohn was honored last spring in Munich, during the initial screening of the documentary and during events surrounding the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau. The documentary was just shown in the U.S. last November, on The History Channel.

Back home after the war, Cohn purchased a dry cleaners business and, then, partnering with Eric Stern, he opened Cohn & Stern Men’s Store, which lasted as a Hyde Park institution for 54 years. Cohn counted politicians, White Sox players, Nobel Prize winners and entertainers among his customers. The store closed in 2006.

Hyde Park Herald Publisher Bruce Sagan, who first met Cohn in 1953, said that Cohn was a remarkable Hyde Park resident who stuck with the neighborhood through its different eras.

“He cared passionately about the community,” Sagan said. “He was one of the people that created the environment in the neighborhood.”

Cohn enjoyed a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of giving to others. He was the go-to person for so many extended family members. They came to expect his famous lists and itineraries and he didn’t disappoint. In his extended community of South Shore and Hyde Park, he served on many boards including the South East Chicago Commission and the Hyde Park YMCA. He also served as President of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and Congregation Habonim.

As difficult as some of Cohn’s early life was, he would be the first to tell you that the hardest thing he ever had to do was watch his beloved Elsa, after 65 wonderful years of marriage, suffer from Alzheimer’s disease for years before her death in 2009. As a husband, Cohn defined the word “devotion.”

“To see the twinkle in Cohn’s eyes, the huge smile and the way his whole face would light up in the presence of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was to experience what pure joy and love were all about,” said Phyllis Cohn, his daughter-in-law.

Dapper, raconteur, witty, warm, loving and family man, would be some of the words to describe Cohn, Phyllis Cohn said. While short in stature, he stood tall in everyone’s eyes.

He is survived by his loving children: Howard (Phyllis) Cohn, Dr. David (Valerie) Cohn, Joyce (David) Feuer; his adoring grandchildren, to whom he was Papa, Lauren (Jeffrey) Kovach, Joshua Cohn, Dana (David) Kite, Amy Feuer (Isiah Parker), Zachary (Ashley) Cohn, Aaron Feuer; his precious great-grandchildren Jori Parker, Sienna Kite and Maxwell Cohn; and his dear Margot Eisenhammer, as well as many loving nieces, nephews and cousins around the world.

Services will be held at Congregation Rodfei Zedek, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd., on Monday, March 28, at 1 p.m., with interment immediately following at Jewish Oakridge Cemetery, 4301 W. Roosevelt Rd.