Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lessons of a Lifetime

Margie Pensak

After close to a century upon this earth, we achieve insight, obtain new perspectives, and view life through the lens of experience. Join five nonagenarians as they look back on their lives and offer us some of their hard-earned nuggets of wisdom.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

old photosDr. Werner Cohen

Age: 90

Dr. Cohen, born in Essen, Germany, is a retired chemist. Despite his many nisyonos in life — as a Dachau and Kindertransport survivor, as an orphaned immigrant to the US, as one of the first Jewish students admitted to Johns Hopkins University and one of Dupont’s first Jewish employees — he never accepted defeat. Dr. Cohen is a lifelong athlete, and continues to maintain a rigorous, self-disciplined exercise regimen.

Looking back at my life, my biggest satisfaction is … my Torah-true family. My “shevet” [tribe] consists of three daughters and three sons-in-law, 12 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.

If I could go back in time and change something … I would have studied medicine. Under different conditions, especially the availability of bank loans today, I might have found a way to study medicine, which was my first choice. I had to compromise.

Throughout my decades of life, the two most critical points I’ve learned about relationships are:

1. Showing love for one’s children does not involve moving challenges out of their way. Everyone needs to devise means to overcome obstacles. This develops self-confidence based on one’s awareness of previous achievements.

2. Gifts of money and material gifts are no substitute for spending time and sharing thoughts and feelings with one’s loved ones.

The most meaningful thing anyone ever did for me … happened in the winter of 1938. In the Dachau concentration camp I was given an undershirt by a fellow prisoner, a distant cousin of mine. My blue-and-white striped prisoner uniform, made of cotton, was totally inadequate to protect me against the howling wind blasts originating in the foothills of the Alps. That second layer of protection was the greatest gift I ever received. I still say Kaddish for my generous donor, who no doubt could himself have benefited from the shirt.

Before reaching 120, I would like to … see worldwide Jew-hatred subside and a prosperous Eretz Yisrael live in mutually assured peace with its neighbors.



<p><span style="color: #333333;">To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or <a style="text-decoration: underline;" href="">sign up for a weekly subscription</a>.</span></p>


Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What Are We Supposed to Do?
Rabbi Moshe Grylak A tried-and-true remedy — and it shook the heavens
Badgered into Submission
Yonoson Rosenblum Avatars of political correctness in search of dissenters
Drinking Doubt Away
Eytan Kobre Meaning is indispensable for generating happiness
My Tale of Two Mentors
Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen I wish them both continued nachas and success until 120
Checks and Balances III
Mishpacha Readers The conversation continues...
Memorable Melodies of Modzhitz
Rabbi Mordechai Besser The struggling survivors became kings in shul on Shabbos
A Whole Song and Dance
Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman One of those small acts that are giant leaps of chesed
Jacob L. Freedman MD "Each Jewish woman is a bas Melech, Dr. Freedman!"
Streamlined Service
Riki Goldstein "JewishMusic Stream is still about classic kosher music”
Perfect Harmony
Riki Goldstein "The arrangements literally changed the entire song"
Hang On to the Glow
Riki Goldstein Back to the warm camp Shabbos memories
Marking Miracles
Faigy Peritzman The miracles are there, but our eyes are blind to them
Going Against the Current
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Wise to deny our kids something all their friends have?
Clothed in Splendor
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz When dressing up is spiritual, not superficial
The Spokesman: Part IV
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Every sentence tells a story; make yours well told