Henry Kellen (Heniek Kacenelenbogen) was born in Lodz, Poland in 1915. After graduating high school, Henry attended the University of France and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 1938. After graduation, he settled in Lithuania, which was overrun by the German Army in June, 1941. The entire Jewish community in the town of Kaunas, Lithuania was forced into the Kovno Ghetto. It was there, in the Ghetto, that he married his wife, Julia in 1941. Out of the 30,000 inmates, only about 4,000 survived. Mr. Kellen’s whole family was not among the 4,000 survivors.
In March, 1944, Mr. Kellen witnessed the “Kinder-Aktion” by the Nazis in which hundreds of babies and children were killed in the ghetto. His nephew, Jerry, was 7 seven years old at the time and hid under a large pillow and thus avoided the piercing bayonet of a Nazi rifle. This targeting of children by the Nazis prompted the three of them to escape in April 1944. After a series of lucky circumstances, Mr. Kellen, his wife and nephew escaped from the camp and were hidden by a poor Christian Lithuanian farmer, Andrius Urbanas, until the end of the war. He arrived in the United States in July, 1946, and settled in El Paso. He has resided here ever since.
For many years, he remained silent with his painful memories. In 1984, after his retirement, he felt an obligation to all who died in the camps. He is the Founder of the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center, which is dedicated to all the victims of the Holocaust. Mr. Kellen spends most of his time lecturing to schools, civic organizations and church groups.
In 2009, the same year the Museum celebrated its 25th Anniversary, Mr. Kellen was awarded the Conquistador Award by Mayor John Cook. The award is the city’s highest honor given to El Paso residents for their contributions and dedication to the city.
Mr. Kellen will celebrate his 98th birthday on July 5, 2013. He continues to be an active voice at the Museum.