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Who Was Karoline Cohn?

Recent archeological digs at the site of the former Nazi extermination camp, Sobibór, have unearthed personal effects belonging to victims of the Holocaust. Archaeologists have found various items, including jewelry and watches as well as a unique pendant bearing a date, the words

15 January 2017

Only one other similar pendant is known to exist, belonging to Anne Frank

In a moving discovery made at the site of the former Nazi extermination camp, Sobibór, remains were uncovered, which are believed to be the location where victims undressed and their heads shaved before being sent into the gas chambers. These archaeological findings were discovered by Polish archaeologist Wojciech Mazurek and Yoram Haimi, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority and their Dutch associate, archaeologist Ivar Schute. The archaeological excavations, underway since 2007, are underwritten by the Steering Committee for the international project to establish a new museum and memorial site in the former German Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór, in coordination with Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research.

The remains of the building unearthed by the archaeologists are located on the "Pathway to Heaven," the path along which Jewish victims were forced to tread to the gas chambers. The personal items found in the foundations of the building probably fell through the floorboards and remained buried in the ground until they were discovered this past fall.

Among the personal items found in the area were a Star of David necklace, a woman's watch and a metal charm covered in glass with an etching of the image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments; on the reverse side of the charm is the inscription of the essential Jewish prayer "Shema." Also found was a unique pendant, probably belonging to a child from Frankfurt who was born on July 3, 1929, which bears the words "Mazal Tov" written in Hebrew on one side and on the other side the Hebrew letter "ה'”" (God's name) as well three Stars of David.

The Story of the Pendant and How It Arrived to Sobibór

Leading experts at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, together with the Israel Antiquities Authority's archaeologist Yoram Haimi, revealed that the pendant discovered in Sobibór bears close resemblance to one owned by Anne Frank, who was murdered in the Holocaust and is well known for the diary she wrote while in hiding in Amsterdam. Through the use of Yad Vashem's online pan-European Deportation Database "Transports to Extinction," they were able to ascertain that the pendant might have belonged to a girl by the name of Karoline Cohn. Dr. Joel Zissenwein, Director of the Deportations Database Project, found that Cohn, born on July 3, 1929, was deported from Frankfurt to Minsk on November 11, 1941. While it is not known if Cohn survived the harsh conditions in the Minsk ghetto, her pendant reached Sobibór sometime between November 1941 and September 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated and the 2,000 Jewish prisoners interned there were deported to the death camp. There, along the path to the gas chambers of Sobibór, the pendant belonging to 14-year-old Karoline Cohn was taken, dropped, and remained buried in the ground for over 70 years.

Additional research reveals that aside from similarities between the pendants, both Anne Frank and Karoline Cohn were born in Frankfurt, suggesting a possible familial connection between Frank and Cohn. Researchers are currently trying to locate relatives of the two families to further explore this avenue.

Over the past decade, the archaeological excavations at Sobibór, under the guidance of Yad Vashem, have made several important discoveries, including the foundations of the gas chambers, the original train platform, and a large amount of personal artifacts belonging to the victims. Among the unique items are metal discs attached to charm bracelets typically worn by children. Engraved on the discs was contact information in case the child went missing.

The most recent excavations have uncovered the remains of the building where victims undressed and their heads shaved as well as other areas bearing signs of the use of mechanical equipment to dismantle the camp. In one specific location are imprints left in the ground where trees were planted in order to in order to conceal evidence of the camp.

Prof. Havi Dreifuss, Head of the Center for the Research on the Holocaust in Poland at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research said, "These recent findings from the excavations at Sobibór constitute an important contribution to the documentation and commemoration of the Holocaust, and help us to better understand what happened at Sobibór, both in terms of the camp's function and also from the point of view of the victims."

According to Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yoram Haimi, "The significance of the research and findings at Sobibór grows with every passing season of excavation. Every time we dig, we reveal another part of the camp, find more personal items, and expand our knowledge about the camp. In spite of attempts by the Nazis and their collaborators to erase traces of their crimes, as well as the effects of forestation and time, we enhance our understanding of the history previously known to us only through survivor testimonies. In this way, we ensure that the memory of the people killed there will never be forgotten. This pendant demonstrates once again the importance of archaeological research of former Nazi death camp sites. The moving story of Karoline Cohn is symbolic of the shared fate of the Jews murdered in the camp. It is important to tell the story, so that we never forget. I wish to thank my Polish partner Wojciech Mazurek and the researchers at Yad Vashem for their dedication to the project, as well as Tel Aviv University for supporting the project, and the Polish-German Foundation who made the excavations possible."

Relatives of Karoline Cohn, or any member of the public who can assist with details regarding her family or Sophie Kollmann, who filled out Pages of Testimony in April 1978 for Richard Else Cohn and Karoline Cohn, are requested to contact Yoram Haimi via email yoramhi@israntique.org.il