"In another week it will be your birthday. How I long to be with you, to kiss you and play with you… "
Léo Cohn, one of the leaders of the Jewish Scouts in France, wrote these words on 26 July 1944, to his four-year-old son Ariel. Five days later, on 31 July, Léo Cohn was deported on the last transport leaving Drancy for Auschwitz.
Léo Cohn, born in Lübek, Germany, immigrated to Paris in 1933. In 1936, he married Rachel Schloss, who had also come from Germany. They had three children: Neomi (b. 1938), Ariel (b. 1940) and Aviva (b. 1944). From his arrival, Léo was active in the leadership of the Jewish Scouts movement in France (EIF). He headed the movement's spiritual leadership, and espoused Jewish values, a love of religion and Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).
He taught Hebrew and established the Scouts Choir, which sang religious melodies and songs of Eretz Israel.
In 1939, Léo was drafted into the Foreign Legion, and on his release, he moved with his family to Moisac, and from there to a farm in Lautrec. Following the occupation of France in May 1940, the Scouts movement in Southern France set up a rescue network, and after the occupation of the south (the Vichy regime) by Nazi Germany in 1942, they also initiated armed resistance. On 2 May 1944, Rachel and her three children were smuggled into Switzerland. Léo remained in occupied France and continued in his position as spiritual leader. He was caught on 16 May, while trying to smuggle out a group of children. He was interrogated by the Gestapo, sent to Drancy, and from there deported to Auschwitz.
In May 2018, as part of the national "Collecting the Fragments" project, two diaries were donated to Yad Vashem, documenting the activities of the Jewish children's home in Chardonne, Switzerland, during World War II, which was run according to Jewish and Scout values. The diaries were donated by Rémy Taϊeb, son of Susan Marburger (Taϊeb -Levy), who was a counsellor at the children's home in Chardonne and a member of the Jewish Scouts movement in France. In one of the diaries, an entry dated November 1944 documents an activity dedicated to Léo Cohn. During the activity, the "farewell letter from our dear leader Léo Cohn who has gone to an unknown destination" was read out.
This is what Léo Cohn wrote to his colleagues in the Jewish Scouts movement in France on 30 July 1944, the fast of Tisha B'Av, on the eve of his deportation from Drancy to Auschwitz:
"Despite our hopes […] they still have time to send us to the camps […] Hold on, lest you fall into their net […] In this place [the camp] one constantly proves if he is really a Jew and a Scout, if he is human in the positive sense of the word […] Don't feel sorry for us […] See you soon, don't worry…"
Léo was murdered in the Holocaust. His wife and three children, Neomi, Ariel and Aviva, survived and immigrated to Israel.
In 2011, Neomi Cassuto, Léo Cohn's daughter, submitted a Page of Testimony to Yad Vashem in her father's memory. In 2018, Ariel Cohn, Léo Cohn's son, donated the last greeting card that his father sent him on the occasion of his fourth birthday.