Veterans: From the Kindertransport

"How was it for the parents to let their children go to a faraway country, not knowing what would be their fate?"

paul kohn_58 (photo credit: Courtesy)
paul kohn_58
(photo credit: Courtesy)
PAUL KOHN, 80From Austria to Herzliya,via Chatteris, England, 1949
Although he’s lived here for 61 years, Paul Kohn is still the quintessential Englishman – polite, charming and with a dry sense of humor. But in fact he was born in Austria in 1930 and was sent to England on a Kindertransport at the age of eight, an only child saying farewell to parents he might never see again.
On the day of the Anschluss, they were still all together – his father a well-known figure and shop owner in the town they lived in – Baden bei Wien. He used to play cards with the locals and one, a teacher, was a card-carrying Nazi who warned him to get out.
“Sigmund,” he said to Kohn’s father, “this is no time to be a Jew in Austria.”
They escaped to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where his grandparents lived and stayed there illegally until they were discovered and deported back to Austria.
“They put us on the bridge between the two countries, but my parents refused to return to Austria. After two days we were smuggled back in, hiding under the tarpaulin of a lorry whose driver we bribed. We stayed in Bratislava, in hiding.”
Kohn remembers events and specific dates as though this all happened yesterday.
“On May 30, 1938 I joined the group of children that was being sent from Prague to England, organized by Nicholas Winton, and on June 2, 1939 I arrived in England."
He feels that the unsung heroes of the whole Kindertransport episode are the parents.
“For us children it was an adventure, but how was it for the parents to let their children go to a faraway country, not knowing what would be their fate? I often give talks in schools and I make this point,” he says.
Fortunately his parents escaped, spent two and a half months at sea and arrived here in 1940, while Paul turned from refugee child to English schoolboy. He was lucky to be taken in by Rev. Charles Bernard Morton, a clergyman in Chatteris where the group was sent.
“I was with another boy, the son of a rabbi. We told Rev. Morton and his wife about our problems with kashrut, and he made a point of meeting our teacher and finding out about the Jewish religion. He never once tried to persuade us to go to chapel or anything like that.”
They stayed in contact for many years after Kohn left England, since in 1949 he wanted to reunite with his parents after 11 years. They had been in touch throughout the time, but they wanted him to finish his education in England.
On October 16, 1949, he made aliya.
“It was a scorching hot day. We didn’t know if they would recognize me as I stepped off the plane. But it was fine.”
He was now 19 and began work with the electric company, which was busy bringing electricity to outlying areas and new settlements. His father had a textile business in Haifa, and Paul was at home in the North getting to know his mother and father.
In 1951 he joined the army and after service in a combat unit found himself eventually in the IDF Spokesman’s Office beginning a long career in journalism which continued when he joined The Jerusalem Post in 1954 as a reporter in the Tel Aviv office.
He worked briefly under the paper’s legendary founder, Gershon Agron, and for many years after Ted Lurie became editor.
“We used to phone in our stories to Jerusalem,” he recalls, “and someone at the other end took down the copy. There was quite a revolution at the Post when we acquired a telex machine.”
He was one of the few reporters in Tel Aviv doing what he calls “legwork” and used to go out hunting for the human interest angle. He was appointed defense correspondent in the late ’50s, but in 1964 he left the Post for a time to manage the Eilat Tourist Office, an initiative of Teddy Kollek to develop the sleepy southern town.
He married Hannah Moshytz, a Swissborn El Al hostess, in 1959 and the couple had four children. Tragically she died in 1982 at 50.
“I brought them up alone and put them all through army and university,” says Kohn. For the last 12 years he has shared his life with Sonia, also widowed at a young age, from Manchester.
After a few years as a Jewish Agency emissary in London, he returned to the Post as a sports journalist and stayed there until his retirement. Other journalistic posts were as an Associated Press stringer and writer for the now defunct Jewish Observer and Middle East Review in London.
He still plays tennis three times a week and has a soft spot for a game of poker. He also works overtime at the real estate office he opened in Herzliya Pituah in 1972.
He went back to Baden with his children and grandchildren in 2007 and organized a reconsecration of the synagogue there, attended by personalities from the president down. His children recently put on a surprise 80th birthday party to which old friends came from far and wide. He maintains he’s an unrepentant non-Zionist and stays because of the weather.
“All my life since the age of eight, I’ve been living on my wits,” he says. “Life is like a jigsaw puzzle and all the bits and pieces fit together for the final picture. I was one of the lucky ones.”