Holocaust Survivor & Volunteer Discover WWII Connection

Holocaust Survivor & Volunteer Discover WWII Connection

"You were in Mauthausen? My grandfather helped liberate Mauthausen." Sarah Cohen Strum, 2013

Porway, Strum

Sarah Cohen Strum, 18, and Blanche Porway, 89, are generations and worlds apart, but they have discovered an unexpected and powerful bond through their chance encounter at the Hebrew Home.

Sarah, a talented senior at St. Andrews Episcopal School and volunteer on our campus, recently had the opportunity to meet Blanche, a resilient individual who came to us for short-term rehabilitation therapy. As Blanche vividly described her experiences as a survivor of Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Sarah was suddenly struck by the realization that this was the very camp her own grandfather Eugene S. Cohen, a major in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, had helped to liberate in the spring of 1945. In fact, Major Cohen had been assigned the staggering task of obtaining eye-witness testimony from prisoners regarding the horrors of their internment ordeal. The culmination of his effort resulted in publication of The Cohen Report*, a critical document used initially to try Nazis at the Nuremberg trials and, owing to its strength, has been used repeatedly since then to bring former Nazis to justice; as recently as 2009 it provided the necessary evidence to enable deportation of criminals from Spain. 

Here is an excerpt from the report categorizing the crimes highlighted in Major Cohen's investigation:

Murder by shooting, beating, use of poison gas, drowning, starving, injections, stoning, exposure, burning, and choking of nationals of twenty-three (23) nations, including members of the United States armed forces, of the German Civilian population working under the German armed forces and of other nationals under the orders of said German armed forces.

Blanche spent her childhood years in Lodz, Poland, where her father, a respected businessman, was able to provide a happy and comfortable life for his wife and four children. All this, of course, ended abruptly in 1939 with Germany's invasion of Poland. A year later the family was forced into the Lodz ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated, Blanche and surviving members of her family were transported to Auschwitz; in the closing chaotic months of the war, they were evacuated to Mauthausen where they remained until liberation.

Blanche and her dear husband, also a survivor, eventually were able to move to the United States and establish new lives for themselves, raising two daughters in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Following her husband's passing, Blanche came to Maryland to live close to her daughter Janet.

For Sarah, the meaningful coincidence of meeting a resident whose story ties in with her grandfather's role in, and contribution to, Holocaust history has heightened her sensitivity to the grief experienced by Blanche. She was therefore moved emotionally when Blanche said to her, "I've had enough sadness in my life. I wasn't going to be sad anymore." And indeed, observes Sarah, "she's been true to that resolution as she smiles and welcomes people into her life." Blanche, in turn, derives much from the relationship, finding in Sarah a heart filled with compassion and tenderness. "As long as Sarah (and students like her) want to take time to be with me, I want to be with them."

On a recent visit to the Home, Sarah recounts standing by Blanche's side at a Wasserman synagogue service during recitation of the Kaddish. For Blanche, notes Sarah, this prayer was said not only for her husband but also for the millions who perished in the camps.


*The Cohen Report was graciously made available to us by Eugene S. Cohen's daughter Ann Cohen, mother of Sarah Cohen Strum, who encourages readers to share the knowledge it provides with others.


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