Alfred Cohn (1890 – 1965) was born in Berlin and spent his childhood and youth there. After school he went in 1911 to study medicine at the universities of Berlin and Göttingen. When the First World War broke out he interrupted his studies and worked for two years as an assistant doctor in field hospitals. In 1919 he was granted his license to practise medicine and graduated with a thesis entitled “Tuberculosis as an aetiological factor in a case of Mikulicz Syndrome” under the aegis of Wilhelm His (1863–1934), a specialist in internal medicine and cardiology.
He subsequently concentrated on the field of skin and venereal diseases and worked as an assistant physician in various Berlin polyclinics and outpatient departments. On 1 January 1921 he began as a volunteer doctor in the Dermatology department of the Rudolf Virchow hospital, on 1 May 1922 he started his research at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). Over the course of the following eleven years he worked in various departments at the RKI, though he was principally involved in diagnosing and treating gonorrhoea, an infection caused by gonococcal bacteria. In addition to his research at the RKI he also ran his own medical practice as a dermatologist and specialist for sexually transmitted diseases, which included a state-licensed laboratory for blood tests.
Soon after he was dismissed from the RKI at the end of March 1933, Alfred Cohn, his wife and their two daughters left Germany. After living for about a year in England, they moved in May 1934 to the USA, where Alfred initially worked as an associate professor at the faculty of medicine at Yale University, continuing his research into gonococcal bacteria. In 1937 he was given the opportunity to be involved in setting up a Gonococcus Research Unit under the control of the health department of the city of New York; in 1940 he was appointed Director of Research of the unit. At the end of his career he took on directorship of the bacteriological laboratory at New York’s Montefiore Hospital. Alfred Cohn died five weeks before his 75th birthday.
Hinz-Wessels A (2008) Das Robert Koch-Institut im Nationalsozialismus. Kulturverlag Kadmos: Berlin