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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.

 

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