Port Royal resident to return to his roots on upcoming mission trip to Russia

charley@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 1, 2012 

Port Royal resident Ted Kohner hopes to visit the graves of his mother and grandfather during an upcoming mission trip to Russia.

JAY KARR/STAFF PHOTO

Teeth chattering in fear, Ted Kohner clung tightly to his mother's hand during their attempt to escape Berlin toward the end of World War II. Following an unusually long air raid, the little boy and his mother arose in the middle of the night only to find both sides of their street on fire.

Kohner remembers standing strong and reassuring his mother: "I'm not afraid," he lied. "I'm just cold."

Born and raised in Berlin during the war, Kohner of Port Royal remembers times of fear, of being spoiled and of being taught so much by his mother. Some of those skills, such as speaking Russian, will come in handy when Kohner goes on a 10-day mission trip to Siberia as a part of St. Peter's Catholic Church's Friends of the Mission to Vladivostok, Russia. He leaves Sept. 22.

While Kohner's mother, Tatiana Chaliapin-Kohner, required him to speak her native Russian at home, she also taught him to love Russian foods, such as borscht, piroshkis and blini. Kohner's grandfather, famous Russian opera basso Feodor Chaliapin Sr., made learning about his heritage a natural part of Kohner's upbringing.

"All of my family spoke Russian," Kohner said. "I am excited about going over there and interacting with the Russian people, and getting to see a place that I've heard a lot about."

This trip will be the first time he has entered the country where his mother and grandfather were born and where they died. He hopes to get permission to visit their graves and to visit his famous grandfather's house in Moscow, which the country turned into a museum.

"The museum would hold many things that I'm familiar with," Kohner said.

Because of her anti-Communist stance as a Voice of America broadcaster, his mother was apprehensive when she was invited back to Russia in honor of her father's 100th birthday.

"But she was welcomed as the daughter of their famous singer," Kohner said.

Chaliapin-Kohner died in Moscow on her third visit there and was buried with her father.

Kohner remembers learning many languages during his childhood: German and Russian while living in Berlin, followed by French when they moved to France shortly after the war; then English when he moved to the States.

His first day in the United States was eye-opening. Kohner, who was about 5, had become accustomed to seeing Americans wearing military uniforms in Germany. When looking down from the New York street apartment where he lived with his mom and aunt, he saw no one in uniform. He asked, "Where are all the Americans?"

Kohner's exile with his mother was frightening. He was only 2 years old when the Nazis shot and killed his father, an interpreter who refused to cooperate with them. He and his mother moved from place to place to survive the bombing of Berlin.

"I can still remember the air raids," the 71-year-old said.

He also was spoiled by his "Babushka" and Aunt Lucy, who chose to hold him instead of put him in a crib.

Kohner moved to Port Royal six years ago after marrying Dr. Yola Nolan-Kohner.

For the past two years, he has been a member of the Beaufort Lions Club.

"Since he has joined our club, he has been a faithful member, offering help whenever needed," said Pat Harvey-Palmer, Lions Club president.

When Kohner read about the opportunity to go to Siberia in St. Peter Catholic Church's bulletin, he jumped at the chance. The trip to Russia will be a twofold labor of love. He will help make improvements on orphanages and hopes to reconnect with his past.

He will use his more than 30 years of experience as a restorative contractor to add bathrooms to orphanages as well as gazebos in Siberia.

Kohner said his mother would be proud of his trip.

"She would be pleased to know I was going to Russia to help the orphans and to have the opportunity to go to the country of her birth."

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Photo of Ted Kohner's mother, as a Voice of America broadcaster, Tatiana Chaliapin-Kohner

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