“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Monday, July 7, 2014

Episode 8: Cohen Brothers

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Brothers Cohen Hengelo

Cohen Brothers

When the war is over, Izak returns to The Netherlands. Not to Hengelo, but to IJmuiden, where he is assigned to a mine sweeping operation to cleanup the coastal waters from mines. 

The love for his British girl-friend is unchanged. Izak decides to get Mary from Britain and to marry on September 26th, 1946. Ample a year later their first child is born: Gina. The birth takes place in Britain, as the healthcare is better than in The Netherlands and Mary's mother is available to support her.

Not much later the young family returns to The Netherlands and settle in Hengelo, where they have to share the house at Rozenstraat (Roses street) with brother Levie and sister Rini. The rising stress between them becomes more and more manifest, as a result of the different characters of the brothers. Mary doesn't feel comfortable, not understood and locked out.

She was a young, blond girl from Britain, who did not understand what happened with the world and the Jews, until she was confronted with a disrupted Jewish family. "I could never feel what they felt, that's what they always said to me", she will say later. Izak resents the dismissive attitude of his brother and sister. The fact that he married a non-Jewish girl doesn't make it all better.

Despite their disagreement, Izak and Levie continue to run together the business of their murdered father. They continue the trade of vegetables and fruit, but under another name: Cobros (Cohen Brothers). The first months they turn up in their military uniform. It was a striking appearance, two former Dutch military from Britain trading vegetables and fruit in a small town in The Netherlands.

Also striking is that they continue to work with the man who had managed their father's business during the occupation by the Germans, called the "Verwalter" (translated from German: administrator or manager). This man, Mr. Olthoff, continues for many years doing the bookkeeping for the Cobros company. Many "Verwalters" are considered to be collaborators with the enemy. The brothers do not have a problem with Olthoff. Perhaps it has to do with the pragmatic attitude of Izak. He also has no problem to do business with former NSB-ers (Nationaal Socialistische Beweging (or Party) members, who collaborated with the Germans). They are the best customers of the wholesale business. "They pay well", he tells everyone.
Cobros: a prospering company

His wife Mary is usually shopping in the "wrong" grocer in her street. No problem for her and her husband. Izak has as well no problem with the Germans. The family drives a Volkswagen (from Germany) and regularly they go for an outing to the eastern neighbors (Germany).

Cobros is a prosperous company. You can see it from their trucks, which year after year are more advanced and expensive. Starting with an old army truck, they next have an Austin and finally a splendid Scania. 

The brothers have divided their responsibilities. Izak is managing the shop and their wholesale business in Hengelo and he delivers their products to customers in the area. Levie is doing the purchasing. He is regularly visiting auctions in the western part of the country. In Rotterdam he becomes commissioner, purchaser for other wholesalers in the country.

Their own shop is initially established at Wemenstraat (Wemen street), next to Voorhuis the clothing shop, which is still there. Around 1954/1955 they commission their brand new premises at Oude Molenweg 40 (Old Mill street). In 1961 the premises is extended with a banana maturing facility.

Levie Cohen marries Rozetta Spetter in 1948.
Brother Izak (top right) joins the party
After a while the company desists. The cause is overspending for their vehicle fleet. But the real cause is the painful relationship and as a consequence the expulsion between the brothers. The war is still playing a role in the background.

The family of Levie consists of mother Mary, daughter Gina and son Julius. They are living in Hengelo at Leliestraat (Lilly street) and later they move to Oude Molen weg to live on the second floor of their business premises.

Levie married on March 23rd, 1948 with Rozetta Spetter. The childless family lives for several years at Rozenstraat 13 (Roses street). In 1952 they move to Elst and finally to Rotterdam.

Translation by Leo Kolwijck, 2014


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