Timeline of David Cohen's Life
- December 11, 1917
- David Cohen is born in a tenement in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, one of two Jewish sections of New York City. He lives there until the age of three or four. The family moves to the Bushwick section in South Brooklyn, which is a mixed community of predominantly German people. He has three older sisters, and he is the first male born into the family. His father is a carpenter, glazier, and locksmith.
- At age 16, David is sent to a Baptist school in West Virginia.
- David graduates from the University of West Virginia. He majors in history and minors in economics.
- David works as a salesman in a furniture store in Princeton, West Virginia. David registers for the draft.
- November 1941
- David has a physical to enter the Navy. He has an astigmatism, and thus fails his physical. He is newly engaged at this time.
- January 1942
- After the December 7th, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, David joins the army. He becomes a radio operator for the Fourth Armored Division.
- Shipped to England in anticipation of the invasion of Nazi-held Europe, the Fourth Armored Division lands in Wales and goes to Wilshire Township in England, near Bath, where he receives more training. His army unit is attached to the Fourth Armored Division of the Third Army, under command of General George S. Patton.
- July 1944
- David's division, a large motorized armored force of tanks, trucks, and half tracks, goes to France from Plymouth, England, on D-36. (D-Day + 36 days) The Fourth Armored Division relieves the Fourth Infantry Division and joins the ongoing battle to liberate France and push into Germany.
- December 1944 – January 1945
- Patton's Third Army is called into the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise Germany offensive on the border of Belgium and France. Their primary mission is to break the German siege of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, which is surrounded in the Belgian town of Bastogne, a town low on supplies and close to being overrun. On Christmas Day, the Third Army pushes through German lines, and the Germans retreat.
- April 4, 1945
- The Allied invasion of Germany is progressing rapidly. David is among the soldiers participating in the first liberation of a Nazi concentration camp by U.S. forces, in Ohrdruf, Germany. At the camp's entrance, he and other troops encounter the bodies of recently executed prisoners, shot and clubbed by retreating camp guards less than an hour before the U.S. Army arrived. David's unit provides medical attention to the camp's surviving prisoners. Urged by a comrade to record Ohrdruf's horrors, "or the people back home won't believe what happened," David takes photographs with a camera he found in an abandoned German house. Several days later he is present when the Allied military top commanders—including U.S. Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton and British General Montgomery—tour the camp. Encountering Cohen in a shed where bodies had been stacked like cordwood, Eisenhower remarks gt FGod, Sergeant, you need a strong stomach to see this." Shaken so much by what he had seen that he was sick to his stomach, an enraged General Patton makes an impromptu speech in which he orders Cohen and other soldiers of the Third Army not to take any more German soldiers prisoner.
- April 12, 1945
- President Roosevelt dies. The Fourth Armored Division is now outside of Buchenwald, one of the major German concentration camps, near Weimar, Germany. Patton's Sixth Armored Division had liberated the camp on April 11th. David enters the camp with others in his unit, and he takes pictures of what he sees. An estimated 51,000 to 60,000 men, women and children had died in Buchenwald, and thousands more were shipped to extermination camps in other parts of Germany. There are no German soldiers to take prisoner; some had been killed in a prisoner uprising shortly before liberation, and the rest fled.
- After the war, David takes courses to become a teacher. He is a junior high social studies teacher in New York for 20 years. Eventually he starts to show the concentration camp photos to his colleagues and to students.
- David moves to Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1984. He works as a paraprofessional in a school in Springfield.
- April 22, 1993
- Holocaust Museum opens. David attends, invited along with other U.S. military veterans who had participated in the liberation of concentration camps. Some of David's photographs of the camps he helped to liberate are on display in the museum.
- 1984 to 2009
David Cohen is active in the Jewish Community Center, and he frequently shares his slides and stories of World War II in area classrooms.
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