Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. They faced overwhelming odds and desperate scenarios, including lack of weapons and training, operating in hostile zones, parting from family members, and facing an ever-present Nazi terror. Yet thousands resisted by joining or forming partisan units. Among them was Romi Cohn.
Romi Cohn was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, on March 10, 1929. He was only ten years old when Germany invaded his country in 1938. When mass deportations of Jews from Slovakia began in 1942, his family was granted an 'economic exception' and allowed to stay. As the war dragged on, however, they realized that their position was becoming dangerous. Romi was eventually smuggled over the border into Hungary.
Unable to speak Hungarian, Romi knew that merely opening his mouth exposed him as an illegal refugee. He settled in a small town and enrolled at a local yeshiva, where the headmaster was sympathetic to his plight. He continued his education until 1944. When mass deportations of Jews from Hungary began, Romi returned home to Czechoslovakia, this time carrying forged Christian identification papers. Romi became an informal member of the underground and used his connections to help find housing for Jewish refugees and to supply them with false Christian papers. The identity papers he made were very realistic: a connection working at Gestapo headquarters supplied him with German seals to stamp the documents.
Eventually Romi was arrested on suspicion of carrying false documents and, after a daring escape, he decided to join the partisans hiding in the mountains. To reach the mountains, Romi forged a German military travel order, sending him to the last German outpost before partisan-controlled territory. “[The Germans] all shook my hand and wished me luck. They thought I was going to go strike a blow for the Reich,” Romi remembers. By the time he joined the partisans, the Germans were already in retreat, and his brigade drove them back westward, while capturing, interrogating, and executing SS officers. When Hungary was liberated, Romi returned to Czechoslovakia. Today he lives in the United States, and has written a book about his wartime experiences, entitled The Youngest Partisan.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance?
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Romi Cohn's decisions and actions? Are these factors unique to this history or universal?
- How can societies, communities, and individuals reinforce and strengthen the willingness to stand up for others?