Came with parents on the SS Bodegraven
Sir Ralph Kohn was born in December 1927 in Leipzig. His mother Lena Aschheim came from Berlin and got engaged to Max Kohn from Kalusz in Galicia (today Poland) in 1913 before Max evaded military service and went to Holland. He was very orthodox and turned to his spiritual leader the Chortkov Rebbe to get advise on how to deal with the engagement. The Chortkov Rebbe told him that he had given his word and had to wait for the end of the war to get married to his betrothed. So they got married and had four children, Sir Ralph being the youngest one. His father ran a successful textile business in Leipzig, not having had a proper education himself, it was his priority to give all his children anything they needed to prosper academically. After Hitler came to power in 1933 his father immediately decided to move his family out of Germany. Due to his experience growing up in anti-Semitic Galicia with frequent pogroms, he didn’t want to take any chances. The family settled well in Holland in a short time, the children learnt Dutch and the father set up a new business and found an adequate orthodox synagogue.
On the 10th of May 1940 it was clear that the Germans wouldn’t respect the Netherland’s neutrality and invaded the country. The Jewish community discussed what to do, when Sir Ralph’s cousin Gershon, who worked in a Jewish orphanage came home with dramatic news. The last ship, “SS Bodegraven” would leave the Ijmuiden harbour in the evening to save the 70 Kindertransportees (organised by the famous Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer) and there was place for additional 200 people on board. The condition was that they didn’t bring luggage and would leave immediately to the meeting point where buses waited which would take them to the harbour. The family decided on the spot to leave and under spectacular circumstances they made it to the bus and in the end on board the ship. When it left they didn’t even know its destination. They arrived in Liverpool and went on to Salford near Manchester as his father wanted to get back into the textile business. Sir Ralph went to primary school and then later to Salford Grammar School to study pharmacology, which became one of his life-long passions. Scholarships took him to Rome where he worked with distinguished scientists (Daniel Bovet and Ernst Chain) and rediscovered his passion and gift for music. He took singing lessons which would later lead to recitals in Wigmore Hall and founding the “International Song Competition at Wigmore Hall”. After another scholarship in the US he decided to come back to England to get settled. He set up several companies among which is the “Advisory Services, Clinical and General” to advice on the safety and testing of drugs.
In 1963 he got married to his wife Zahava, who like him is from an orthodox continental Jewish background. She is a Holocaust survivor and was also interviewed for Refugee Voices. They have three daughters who themselves have distinguished careers. Sir Ralph was knighted for services to science, music and charity. He and his wife have been to Leipzig many times as they are involved in supporting the Bach Archiv and Bach Scholarship, Bach Research et cetera and have made many friends in this capacity in Leipzig. He has learnt that you should live your life with enthusiasm and not dwell too much on things, which haven’t gone right because there may be a far greater thing still ahead. Never be diverted from what you would like to achieve in life.
Key words: Leipzig; Amsterdam; Chorkov Rebbe; SS Bodegraven; Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer; Dutch Kindertransport; Salford; Pharmacology; Wigmore Hall; Bach Archiv; Bach Research. Aschheim-Zondek