By John Hollis, Belvoir EagleJune 26, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (June 26, 2014) - It's a coveted rite of passage, signifying that one has lived a full life of 70 years from the time they first came of age in the Jewish faith.
Nowhere was that more true than at the Fort Belvoir Chapel, June 23, as six distinguished senior citizens -- including four World War II veterans -- from the Fort Belvoir Jewish Congregation received their second Bar Mitzvah.
Two of those veterans, Frank Cohn and Jerry Wolf, told moving stories that were particularly gripping, each detailing how they overcame long odds to survive the war, play key roles in the U.S. efforts to defeat the Nazi war machine and make valuable contributions at home.
The purpose of the ceremony was to honor all their lives and many accomplishments, said Rabbi Randy Brown.
"Judaism is about embracing the most amazing moments in time and highlighting those moments," he said. "This is kind of highlighting those moments. The idea is to celebrate their lives and engage them, celebrate what they've given to the community."
According to Jewish tradition, a second Bar Mitzvah means that one has lived a full life in the 70 years following their original Bar Mitzvah at age 13. Five of the six honorees recalled the specific date of their initial Bar Mitzvah, while 96-year-old former Army physical therapist Edna Salzberg was experiencing her first. The similar ceremony for Jewish girls coming of age is called a Bat Mitzvah.
Others receiving their second Bar Mitzvah included Bea Kleier, Marshall Passman and Bert Udovin.
But it was stirring testimonies from Cohn and Wolf that immediately grabbed the attention of the nearly 50 people in attendance. Now 88 years old, Cohn was just 13 and only a few months removed from his original Bar Mitzvah when he and his family narrowly escaped Nazi persecution in their native Germany and made their way to the United States.
Cohn's father was already in America when the Gestapo first visited the Family home in October 1938, only to be admonished by Cohn's mother to immediately leave and never come back. But the Family matriarch knew the Nazis would soon be back and that their reprieve would be just a temporary one.
"Despite what was nice in my life, I knew it was time to go, even as a 13-year-old," Cohn recalled.
The Family soon sneaked into Holland, eventually catching a boat to America to meet Cohn's father. Their decision proved wise, as "Crystal Night" followed in Germany shortly afterward, resulting in the arrests of an estimated 30,000 of Jews and their subsequent removal to concentration camps. Jewish homes, schools, hospitals and businesses were also ransacked as the Holocaust began.
Cohn would lose several childhood friends to the Nazi concentration camps.
Now safely ensconced in America, Cohn was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1943, starting out as an infantry replacement before moving over to intelligence because of his ability to speak fluent German. He rose to the rank of sergeant after seeing combat in the Battle of the Bulge and other campaigns and being part of the American military force that defeated Germany.
Cohn attended college following the war, receiving an officer's commission and rising to the rank of colonel by the time he retired from the Army in 1978.
A proud member of the U.S. Army Air Corps' 8th Air Force, Wolf was on his 25th mission as a top turret gunner on a B-17 bomber when his plane was shot down over Germany on May 28, 1944, six days before the invasion of Normandy.
His plane was among the 32 bombers and seven fighters lost that day for a cumulative loss of 320 men.
"We were the bait to bring the Luftwaffe out," Wolfe, 90, said.
The entire 10-man crew was soon captured and taken to a German stalag (prisoner of war camp), where they would remain for nearly a year until the war's final days. Wolf and his fellow POWs endured a brutal German winter almost exclusively without heat, but managed the best they could. He became a free man again when Russian forces liberated the camp on April 29, 1945, just two days following his 21st birthday.
Wolf, who was joined at the ceremony by his Family, celebrated his first Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Apr. 19, 1937.