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Susi Cohen 1920 – 2013

Susi Cohen ... escaped the Nazis

From Essen to Omer

Having escaped the Nazis in Essen, Susi celebrated her 18th birthday in Amsterdam, the same day that the Nazis attacked the Jews in her home country on Kristallnacht. Susi was on her way to Sydney where a handsome young man, Jules Cohen, was waiting to fall in love with her. You cannot tell Susi's story without remembering Jules and Susi whose marriage lasted until 1998.

Our association with the Cohen family goes back to the 1920s. My uncle Joe worked for Jules' father in his store in Bondi Junction. When we returned to Sydney in 1944, my father renewed the relationship with the Cohen family: six brothers and one sister. I was packed off to boarding school which was a mile from Jules and Susi and they adopted my brother and me. We used to take the tram to Jules, Susi, Heather and Peter. Susi was a balabusta and we ate well, which was important to kids eating boarding school muck day after day. The family had a record collection - large 78 albums of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky Symphonies, Swan Lake, Peter and the Wolf. We had to sharpen those wooden needles and turn over the discs after three minutes and we learned to love those records. My early memory of Susi Cohen is good food and good music.

The Cohen brothers owned PDF, a chain of health-food stores, with a small warehouse factory where they made the best peanut butter in Australia. The G.I.'s loved it. The Cohens opened PDF franchises for refugee families. They had holiday tents at Palm Beach, with the surf on one side and Pittwater beach on the other. We stayed with Dave and Ethel Cohen. Their place was more like a canvas mansion than a tent. Dad was always welcome as he exiled the ladies from the kitchen and cooked breakfast over a couple of primus stoves.

The war came to an end. My father had work in out of the way places, so on my barmitzvah day it was Jules and Susi who looked after me.

Eventually we settled in Adelaide, in our own home. In 1956 we came to Sydney to meet my sister, back from Israel for a holiday. Jules and Susi were now living in Castlecrag, a fascinating, harbor-side suburb set out by the man who planned Canberra. I remember our first visit to 29 The Parapet. Susi was in bed recovering from a terrible attack of pancreatitis, and Jules was telling my father about it, tears streaming down his cheeks. Reading the autobiography which Susi dictated when she was ninety, I remembered how it was touch-and-go at the time.

My brother left town for Melbourne, my sister and her husband made aliyah, and my father and his new wife followed them to Israel. I wasn't going to stay in Adelaide, so I hot-footed it to Sydney. Again Jules and Susi adopted me and I was a regular Friday night and Seder night guest. Susi was wonderful, even more so when one considers her health. I don't know how she did it. The family all pitched in. They had an apartment for Susi's parents, who had brought her out of Germany one step ahead of the Gestapo. There were always interesting guests at Susi's table - artists and actors from the Elizabethan Theater. Peter had toured in their production of Medea. (The poor kid gets murdered at the end of the play.)

Susi had a sister living in Moscow, a sister she so much wanted to see again, but the meeting never happened. In the patriotic days of World War II, Russia was our ally, Stalin was good old Uncle Joe, and Jules and Susi were impressed. At the age of ten I thought communism was the best thing since sliced bread, not that we had sliced bread in Australia! I got over it and they got over it when the kids joined Betar, and Heather married Danny Rosing, a Betar leader. The kids left Australia and settled in Israel. Jules and Susi moved to an apartment close to town and the Eastern Suburbs.

It was about this time that Susie and I got engaged. And naturally, Susi gave us an engagement luncheon. We still have the book she gave us, "The Balabusta's Best," in which she wrote, "Feed the Brute."

And as day follows night, Jules and Susi stood in for my parents under the chupah when I married my Susie.

We made aliyah. Peter and Erica, Jules and Susi did likewise, and over the years there seems to have been an endless series of parties, weddings, bar/bat-mitzvahs, brits and birthdays. We must have consumed a mountain of schnitzels, pulkas, herring and salads - our family and the Cohen-Rosing clan. We celebrated Jules' 80th birthday at their home in Raanana. Sadly, Jules passed away in his sleep in1998.

We visited Susi in March. We had a good chat - for all the problems she had, Susi was still with it, and that was a blessing.

We will miss our adoptive mother. 



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Monday, 05 June 2023

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