Werner V. Cohen was born on December 8, 1921 in Essen, Germany. He lived with his parents and younger sister in a community among upper middle-class Christian Germans. Growing up in a reformed Jewish household, Werner was put through a rigorous and elitist elementary and partial junior high education in Cologne. On November 10, 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, Werner returned home early from school to find his home destroyed. He and his father were arrested by S.S. soldiers, although Werner was sent to Dachau, a concentration camp in Southern Germany, for four weeks before he was allowed to leave. His high school teacher helped orchestrate his emigration from Germany on the Kindertransport via train through Holland to London, England. His sister was sent to Nottingham, but was later relocated to London by a rabbi of the British army who Werner had befriended. In April 1942, his parents were taken to Izbica, Poland, where they were later killed at Belzec. Werner lived out the rest of the war in London. Despite his six-month displacement in an internment camp on the Isle of May, off the coast of London, he found work in menial labor and received further education by attending neighboring universities.
Werner came to the United States after the war, ultimately finding his way to Baltimore, where he met his wife through relatives, Auschwitz survivor Hilda Stern Cohen. The two had one daughter. Hilda encouraged the family to practice Orthodox Judaism.
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