Cousins Felix Cohn and Heinrich (Heinz) Cossmann

This photograph came to me in a lot of random photos from German ebay. What an unusual photo, I thought. The hair of these Victorian-era children is kind of untypically short and freshly cut. If it hadn’t been for the hand-written names on the reverse, I would have thought these were two sisters (or two brothers?) who had had lice and had their hair cut short because of it. But that would be a bit strange to take a photo of?

The names on the back of the photo say:

Heinz C… and cousin (“Vetter” in German) Felix Cohn“.

So they were definitely boys! Victorian boys were often dressed in dresses and skirts, it was the fashion at the time. But what about the hair?

I then looked for further clues – where were they from? The photographer E. Bieber turned out to be Emilie Bieber, a well-known female photographer from Hamburg. And she was Jewish. Could the boys have been Jewish too? I admit that I am not familiar with Jewish traditions, but I read about the tradition of a haircutting ceremony – an “upsherin” (also called “upshernish” or “chalakah”) which is performed on a boy’s third Jewish birthday. And that would definitely be an occasion to hold on to in a photograph. The ages of the boys in the photograh would fit, too. Could this explain their fresh haircuts in the photo?

Judging from the fashion, I place the photo in the 1880-90s. And since the photo studios of E. Bieber were located in Hamburg, perhaps both or at least one of them lived in Hamburg? As I was missing the surname of little Heinz (or Heinrich?), could I find a Felix Cohn, born in the 1880s in Hamburg?

I did! Felix Gustav Cohn had been born on October 13th, 1888 in Hamburg to Jewish parents Carl Johann Cohn and Aline née Cohen. Felix’ father was a businessman and a senator. Felix had 4 siblings. He grew up to become a medical doctor. In 1923 he married an Austrian woman Herta née Bahlsen, who was 15 years younger than Felix. The couple had 5 children: Andreas Cohn (1924-1933), Maria Cohn (1926-?), Carl K. Cohn (1928-2004), Johann Cohn (1935-?) and Anna Elisabeth Knapp née Cohn (1936-2003).

But what about Heinz? I combed through all the public Felix Cohn family trees on the genealogy platforms, looking for a cousin named Heinz. And I found one – Heinrich (Heinz) Cossmann. I then remembered another identified photo in same photo lot (there were just a few identified ones in that particular one) of one Julie Cossmann. Julie Cossmann née Cohn was Heinz’ mother and Felix’ paternal aunt. I had found them – how cool is that!

Heinrich “Heinz” August Cossmann had been born on January 12th, 1889 in Berlin to Jewish parents Hermann Cossmann and Julie Charlotte née Cohn. He married Gertrud Marie Anna Lina née Friedrich in May 1921 in Munich. I don’t know if the couple had any children.

I braced myself for further research, knowing which horrific historical events took place in Germany next… Did cousins Felix and Heinz survive the Holocaust…?

Looks like Felix got out in time to save himself, his wife and children. His parents had passed away in 1931. Felix left for the United States in 1938 on his own, probably to find a place to set up their new life, and got his wife and children out of Germany in January 1939. They settled down in Hamilton, Ohio. According to the 1940 Census, he had immediately applied for the US citizenship. In 1940, he and his wife Herta and their four children were living at 127 Main Street in Hamilton and he was working as a medical doctor. I’ve also found his draft card, he was drafted to serve in the US army in 1942 when he was 53 years old, but I don’t know if he was shipped out to action. After WWII, he continued to work as a medical doctor. He passed away on July 20th, 1971, and was buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton. His obituary was published in The Journal News of Hamilton, Ohio, on July 20th, 1971:

Felix’ wife Herta passed away at the age of 100 in 2003, daughter Anna Elisabeth in 2003, son Carl in 2014.

Cousin Heinz’ life turned out much differently. He and his wife stayed in Germany. He was a politician, a liberal and a social-democrat. He has a Wikipedia site dedicated to him, which in translation sums up his life as follows:

Cossmann studied law and political science and was sworn in as a court clerk on July 22, 1910. From October 1919 he was a court assessor with a DA of March 2, 1915. From January 1920 he worked in the Prussian Ministry of Finance, where he became a government assessor on September 24, 1920. On February 24, 1921 he was appointed to the government council. From June 3, 1925 he was commissioned administrator of the district office in the district of Biedenkopf, where he became district administrator on October 28, 1925. On August 26, 1932, he was placed on temporary retirement with effect from October 1, 1932 due to the dissolution of the Biedenkopf district. He was then transferred to the Schleswig government and forced to retire on January 1, 1936 for political reasons. He then lived in Freiburg i. Br. From February to May 1945 he was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. After the end of the war he became Minister in the Hessian Ministry of the Interior in October 1945 and from January 13, 1947 until his death he was Ministerial Director and Head of the Legal Office in the Hessian Ministry of the Interior and Reconstruction.

In 1938, the Nazis added “Israel” to his name as part of their antisemitist policy to single out Jews among citizens. I find Heinz on the 1940 list of “Jews from Baden” and in the addressbook of Freiburg from 1940. In 1942, only his wife Gertrud is listed to live in the same house.

He survived the concentration camp and WWII, as you could read above. And even though the horrors of the Nazi regime didn’t completely break his spirit and drive, as he came back to politics stronger than ever, it must have broken his body. Cause on the evening of September 1st, 1949, he collapsed on the street in Wiesbaden and suffered a deadly stroke. Heinz lived to be just 60 years old.

So these two youngsters grew up to achieve great things despite the most unimaginable horrors thrown in their way. I don’t know if cousins Felix and Heinz ever saw each again after WWII. I hope they could keep in touch and their children looked each other up as peace was restored and communication lines opened. I know from passenger lists that Felix’ daughter Maria Cohn visited Hamburg in 1959. I hope there still was family to meet and hold hands with, like cousins Felix and Heinz once had in this treasure of a photo…

Stay tuned for my next blogpost about Heinz’ mother and Felix’ aunt Julie Cossmann née Cohn.

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