Max Kolsen, a merchant, was born Max Fritz Oskar Cohn on 12 October 1861 in Schwerin an der Warthe. His parents were Efraim and Rosalie Cohn.
He gained official authorisation to change his name to Kolsen from the Berlin Police President on 28 April 1891. Max Kolsen also converted to the Protestant faith.
In April 1897 Max Kolsen married Marie Mathilde Anna Bartosik, a sales assistant, whose parents lived in Fürbringer Strasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg.
After their marriage, the couple lived for some years in Bergmann Strasse in Kreuzberg before moving to Yorck Strasse in 1903. In June 1919 Max Kolsen’s wife died after a long illness in the Charité hospital. Henceforth Max Kolsen lived at Möckern Strasse 63, in the same neighbourhood as his previous homes, and only a few metres from his last address at Horn Strasse 19.
Max Kolsen’s biography is perhaps typical of many people of his era with Jewish roots. In the latter part of the 19th century, an assimilation process took place in Germany in parallel with a political process of conceding more civil rights to Jews. But to gain full social recognition and equal job opportunities, many Jews converted to Christianity and changed their names. The Nazis compiled a so-called Jew file from Protestant church documents. This source, officially labelled the “non-natives index”, showed how successful assimilation had been: while there were 500,000 members of the Jewish Community living in the German Empire, there were almost as many Christians of Jewish descent.
It must have been horrifying for people like Max Kolsen, then, when the Nazis turned them back into Jews. Max Kolsen, like many others, was forced to vacate his apartment and move into a so-called Jew house in Horn Strasse. Forced labour, the seizure of his possessions and the loss of all hope for a life in dignity left him so desolate that on 10 January 1942 he took his own life.