Cohen Family

Cohen Family

by Neville Cohen of Randwick, Australia

The story begins with Jonas Kaganowitz, who was probably born in Rokiskis - he certainly lived there.  We know next to nothing about him except that he married Rachel, who is presumed to have been Russian.   Jonas had a brother who came to be known as Morris J Cohen who ended up in New Zealand, and a sister about whom we know almost nothing except that she went to London and married Perez Bendel, a tailor.   Family tradition has it that some at least of the family went first to Ireland, and believing (rightly!) that Kaganowitz didn't sound particularly Irish, they changed the name to Kagan.  When they reached the East End of London they then changed it again to the more Jewish-sounding Cohen.  However, we have no confirmation of the Irish connect at all, and it may have no foundation in fact.  We do know that Cohen became the "official" name of the London clan, and also of Morris, mentioned above.  

To return, Jonas & Rachel had 3 children, a daughter Baelah and 2 sons, Abraham B Cohen & Herman Julius Cohen, my grandfather.   Baelah (1842-19.3.1922) married Zalman Bar-Dov Rosen, and they finally settled in Johannesburg.  I have some knowledge of their offspring if any of this rings a bell with members of our SIG.   Abraham B Cohen (c1855-10.3.1930) married twice. The first marriage is recorded as being to Rebecca in Lithuania, and therefore presumably in Rokiskis.  They had 5 children.  Second wife was Libby, and that's all we know.   Abraham went to Brockton, MA with the children, date of emigration unknown, but possibly it could be traced through American records. He started quite an American dynasty, of whom we have fairly complete records.  To sum up briefly, Miriam Malke Cohen (1822-20.3.1937) married Samuel Grand. Hyman Cohen (1884-27.9.1941) didn't marry as far as we know.  Annie Cohen (4.6.1888-1982) married Max Shriberg. Joseph Cohen (1889-1935) married Berth Plass.  John Cohen married Tillie Rabinowitz.     

The third son of Jonas & Rachel was Herman Julius Cohen (22.1.1863-27.2.1939) my grandfather,  whom I remember quite well, as I was 9 when he died and I saw a great deal of both him and my grandmother.   He was a jeweler and auctioneer by trade in London, and appears to have done quite well for himself.  He married Fanny Julia Rosenberg in London in 1891.  They lived in Lower Road, Rotherhithe, on the south side of the Thames, and the building still stands - I saw it on my first trip to London some 5-6 years ago.   In the last few years of the 19th Century business seems to have declined, and Herman decided to try South Africa.  From the scant records still in my possession it seems that he went back & forth to Cape Town and Johannesburg a couple of times, leaving his wife and children in London.  He set up in business as a watchmaker/jeweler and Fanny apparently supervised the London end, arranging stock purchases and shipping.  Eventually she joined Herman in Cape Town, leaving my father and his older brother in London with one of her sisters, and taking the youngest child with her.  She then had a fourth son, but returned to London for the birth.  Details of these peregrinations are a bit scarce, and we have to try and make sense of the few firm dates on which to peg things.   My father and his older brother eventually sailed on their own to South Africa on the SS "Carisbrook".  As they were 13 & 12 respectively, this must have been quite an adventure!  Even at that age they were both accomplished musicians, and I have a programme from the ship's concert showing "Masters John & Bernard Cohen, piano & violin", so they were not lacking in chutzpah.  Incidentally, they both went on to careers embracing music, unlike many children who suffer being taught as youngsters and then let it all fade away.  John ran a very successful music shop in Sydney called "Harmony House" and was pianist/organist to a variety of Masonic Lodges.  My father taught himself a range of magic and other stage arts, purely as a hobby, and became quite well known as a writer/produced of comic plays, "Mock Weddings" and the like, mostly to raise money for Jewish charities in Sydney.  He was a semi-professional violinist (part-time) and often lent his services to amateur musical groups, of which there were many in Sydney at that time.  Unfortunately my mother was not in the least musical, in fact Dad used to say of her "she only knows two tunes, one is "God Save the King" and the other isn't!"   But I digress - South Africa was just emerging from the Boer War and economically went into a severe decline.  They stuck it out for 9 years, mostly in Johannesburg, and eventually they set out once again to find fame and fortune, and chose Australia.  Happily, they all did very well here, Herman became a highly respected member of the community, a Justice of the Peace and successful businessman.  Building on his background of auctioneering he established a furniture and carpet emporium in 1908 which lasted until 1975, during which time it passed from him to my father and finally to me.  In 1975 Herman Cohen & Son ceased operations after having been a landmark at Circular Quay for the best part of 70 years.

Be sure to see Cohen Family Photos

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