Roger Cohen's Jewish family history complex, political 

Coinciding with headlines about the new rise of antisemitism in France and the doubling of the rate of emigration to Israel, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen appears in The City to talk about personal, and political, issues. 

In conversation with former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Thursday, Cohen is promoting "The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family," a new book about his family's displacement and search for safety.

His complicated family history began in South Africa where his Lithuanian Jewish parents met. He mother-to-be was a young girl living on Johannesburg’s Human Street who married a "boy from Honey Street." The elder Cohen, a doctor, moved the family to England, where Roger grew up.

Cohen's mother June has a major role in the book. Talented and beautiful, she suffered from mental illness, and even in the safety of London, she never found a home, remaining, Cohenwrites, "a transplant that did not take." Further turmoil took some members of the family to Israel and others to the U.S. The story is bracketed by traumatic situations from South Africa, where the cost of being accepted as part of the oppressive minority was to go along with apartheid, and to present-day Israel, with its continued crisis against what has controversially been called the "Palestinian community of expulsion."

Cohen's book is historical and fact-based, but in public appearances, his opinions often become the focus of attention. After a long and distinguished career in journalism, for example, he openly expresses pessimism that beyond North America, Jews are not and will not be fully accepted in non-Jewish societies.

Although Cohen's immediate family escaped the Holocaust, he remains deeply affected by its events (as do survivors, who, decades later, continue to deal with trauma in various and individualistic ways), and he describes complex, lingering psychological effects. 

At the outset, the book details the complicated reaction his uncle, a South African army captain, had upon encountering starved and stunted concentration camp survivors in Italy at the end of the war. Seemingly remarklably, his uncle was repulsed rather than empathetic. “Extreme suffering engenders revulsion,” Cohen writes. Cohen’s San Francisco appearance also coincides with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which occurred on Jan. 27, 1945. 


Roger Cohen 

Where: Jewish Center, 3200 California St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 29 

Tickets: $25 to $35

Contact: (415) 292-1233,


The Girl from Human Street

By: Roger Cohen 

Published by: Random House   

Pages: 320 

Price: $27.95

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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