Two months ago, Rabbi Romi Cohn grew deeply emotional as he stood before Congress delivering the opening prayer on the day that marked 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Instead, Cohn survived the war. He joined the partisan forces that fought the Nazis in what was then Czechoslovakia and helped to rescue 56 Jewish families. He moved to Brooklyn, where he became a respected rabbi and a mohel who performed thousands of circumcisions, welcoming new generations of Jewish baby boys.
This week, Cohn died at 91 of the coronavirus.
A relative confirmed his death to The Washington Post.
Heartbroken to hear Rabbi Romi Cohn z''l passed away from COVID-19.— Rep. Max Rose (@RepMaxRose) March 24, 2020
Rabbi Cohn lived an incredible life of service, helping 56 families escape Nazi tyranny. 2 months after he led the House in opening prayer, I hope you'll join me in praying for him & his family. יהי זיכרו ברוך pic.twitter.com/aIFpBnRNWC
Cohn, born in 1929, was 10 when the Nazis invaded his native Czechoslovakia. The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, which records the history of dozens of men and women like Cohn who fought against the Nazis during World War II, says Cohn sneaked into Hungary in 1942, when Czech Jews were being deported to concentration camps. His mother and four siblings were later killed in the camps.
He did not speak Hungarian and had to avoid talking, lest a single word give away that he was in the country illegally.
He found a Jewish school where he studied until 1944, when Hungary began deporting Jews to camps, as well.
With forged papers identifying him as Christian, Cohn returned to Czechoslovakia, where he created fake identity documents for fellow Jews. After he was arrested and escaped, according to the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, he joined the partisan fighters at age 15. He eventually titled his memoir “The Youngest Partisan.”
Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), who described Cohn as a dear friend when Cohn gave his prayer for Congress in January, said Cohn’s fighting with the partisans until the end of the war included helping 56 Jewish families flee from the Nazis.
In 1950, according to Rose, Cohn moved to Canada, and from there to Brooklyn. He became a rabbi and served a synagogue in Brooklyn, worked as a real estate developer and found another avocation as a mohel.
Over more than 25 years, Cohn circumcised more than 3,000 newborns, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency. He never charged a fee. And he trained 100 more mohels, on the condition that none of them charge for their services, either.