Jean and Jack Cohen come from different ends of the earth. Jean grew up in the Bronx and lived in New Jersey; Jack lived in Holland during World War II. Jean attended Long Island University; Jack survived the Holocaust and eventually traveled to America. Somehow, the Cohen’s found each other in California, and over 47 years, the couple has worked together and raised a healthy and college-educated family. Today, the Cohen’s own the Old Town Boutique in Temecula. Though their life stories are divergent and widespread, the two couldn’t be more compatible.
“We’ve worked together since the day we met,” Jean, 79, said. “He’s just a good person.”
Jack, 86, was born in Ostend, Belgium, to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. During his childhood, Jack lived in Amsterdam with his family.
When Hitler’s Nazis invaded Holland in May of 1940, the Cohen’s were not greatly affected. They continued to run their family factory and send Jack and his older brother, a concert pianist, to school. However, in August of 1941, the Nazis decreed that Jewish children were not permitted in so-called “Aryan schools.” Jack then stayed home with his parents and worked in their factory, where they made decorative accessories and interior design merchandise.
“That is why I now work in merchandising,” said Jack. “I became very familiar with it.”
When Jack was 14, his grandparents were forced to move from Zandvoort, a beach town, to Amsterdam with the Cohen’s. To help them move their belongings, Jack drove a large tricycle mounted with a small sail and a flat box 25 miles to Zandvoort. In riding his tricycle to Zandvoort, Jack was inspired to work for a local bookstore which rented out books for 10 cents a week.
“My job was to ride the tricycle around with the large box acting as shelves to hold westerners, or romances, or adventure stories.”
On one of his bookstore rounds Jack said he passed an “old-age home for Jewish people” where Germans were loading elderly people into army trucks. Some people had wheelchairs or crutches.
“I started to realize how great someone’s hate must be to take all of those old Jews and move them. They thought they would be settling in Theresienstadt. Instead, they were killed in concentration camps,” said Jack.
Following this incident, Jack received word that his grandparents were to be resettled.
“You’d probably ask why they did not hide,” he said. “At that time people still believed the stories of starting a new life. One night, the Germans had come with a large truck filled with Jewish people to pick them up.”
Unbeknownst to his grandparents, the truck would transport them to a school, where they would later be transported to the Sobibor extermination camp.
“As I looked inside [the school]