Lottie P. Cohn
Germany (now U.S. citizen)
Where are you from?
Germany. I was born in Bonn and grew up in the town of Altenkirchen.
What was your childhood like?
It was nice until the Nazis took power. Once the Nazis took power I was afraid to go out in the streets. One day while walking to school, a teenage boy slapped me across the face and called me a ‘dirty Jew’. I had never been slapped before and the incident sticks with me through today. After that, I started going to a Jewish school since I was no longer allowed to go to the town school with my friends and really didn’t want to after that. The Jewish school wasn’t bad but I missed my friends. I had one neighbor friend–we were really close–and her parents still let her play with me after no one else would. Still to this day we write to each other.
What brought you to Cleveland?
After Kristallnacht, my father was arrested and taken to Dachau. He was released after a few weeks because he had fought in World War I for Germany. He had seen enough and contacted his friend in Holland, who helped him get out of Germany. My parents had luckily collected all of the paperwork and passports we would need, and we made it out of Holland on the last boat before the passageway was taken over by the Nazis. We sailed to NYC and stayed there at first. We came from a small town in Germany and NYC was overwhelming. My parents worked with an agency to help us with a transfer to another city. My parents were given the choice between moving to Pittsburgh or Cleveland and chose Cleveland only because they had met someone on the boat from there. Cleveland was a much better fit. I went to school right away and made friends immediately.
What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States? Did those change?
Our first thought was relief. We made it out of Nazi Germany. The United States represented freedom. It still does. Every time I travel anywhere else in the world, I am always thankful and relieved when I return to the U.S.. I have never taken for granted the freedom and safety that I have here.
What challenges did you face transitioning here?
I had a difficult time with how overwhelming NYC was. I had taken English in Germany, so I was able to meet friends and follow along in school right away. My mother had also learned basic English in Germany and was able to get a job at American Greetings when we moved to Cleveland. My father never learned English and found it easier to just teach everyone else German. In Germany, he had owned his own shop. He had to learn a new trade here and worked in a factory. Both of my parents were very hardworking and always felt lucky to be here, even if things were sometimes difficult.
What is your occupation?
I am long retired, but I used to work for the American Jewish Committee and I was a Sunday School teacher. I always loved to work and learned that from my parents. My first job was at American Greetings with my mom. I worked there in the summers.
How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?
When we arrived, they were nice. We didn’t make many friends in NYC but people were open to meeting us in Cleveland. I made friends very quickly when I moved here. People are just friendlier in Cleveland than anywhere else.
What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?
I celebrate the Jewish holidays with my family and cook traditional foods, but I’m more distant from German culture. When I moved to the U.S. I wanted to be as American as possible. Most of my friends from Germany were the same way. But I grew up speaking German at home with my parents.
What do you love about Cleveland?
I love how welcoming the city is and how friendly the people are. My family is here, my life is here, and I feel safe and comfortable here.
Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?
It’s easy to forget sometimes that the life you’re leading isn’t the same as the life others are leading across the world. Many people come here because they can’t live in their homes. It’s not safe. We have a responsibility to take care and protect others who are just trying to live better, safer lives—especially those of us who were lucky to come here as immigrants and refugees ourselves.