Henry Kellen, Holocaust survivor and founder of the El Paso Holocaust Museum & Study Center died on July 3 two days short of his 99th birthday.
Kellen, whose original surname was Kacenelenbogen, was born July 5, 1915, in Lodz, Poland. After attending school in Paris, France, to study textile and mechanical engineering. Kellen returned to his family's home in Lithuania in 1937. By 1941, the Germans had invaded Lithuania, and Kellen's family, along with 30,000 other Jews, were forced into the Kovno Ghetto. After witnessing a "Kinder-Action" in the Ghetto, where Nazi and Ukrainian soldiers took Jewish children from their families, eventually to be murdered. Kellen and his family made the decision to flee the ghetto and go into hiding. Kellen survived the Holocaust with his wife Julia and their eight year old nephew, Jerry, thanks to the kindness of the Andrius Urbonas family who hid them on their farm for the remainder of the war. The rest of his family, both parents, brother and sister and their children perished in the Holocaust.
In 1946, Kellen, along with his wife and nephew, immigrated to the United States, settling in El Paso where his wife had family. Kellen, who was very adept with languages, soon learned English and Spanish and became a leading salesman for Rio Grande Sales Company. His success was such that he opened his own business, including Henry's Men Store in Five Points and the Hollywood Store for Men downtown.
Like many survivors, at first, Kellen rarely spoke about his Holocaust experiences. However, in the 1980's when he learned of the existence of Holocaust deniers, he knew that he had to respond. Angry that anyone would deny his family's fate, Kellen began collecting Holocaust memorabilia, artifacts and education materials, which he housed in a conference room at the El Paso Jewish Federation.
Eventually, the sheer number of artifacts and the growing number of visitors to the conference room necessitated a separate museum. The generosity of Miriam and Louis Rosenbaum provided the resources for the construction of the original museum on the grounds of the Federation. When that mysteriously burned, shortly after 9/11, the current museum on Oregon and Yandell was built. Today, the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center is an important community resource for educating the public about the Nazi Holocaust and teaching tolerance as a way of ensuring that similar acts will not be repeated. The city of El Paso presented Kellen with a Conquistador Award for his contributions to the community.
Henry Kellen is preceded in death by his first wife Julia Kellen, his nephew Jerry Kellen, his parents Moses and Helena Kacenelenbogen, his brother, Moniek Kacenelenbogen, and his sister Sonia Grinberg. In 1985, Kellen married Regina Rosen Reisel, who passed away in 2008.
He is survived by his adopted son, Saul Yannai, two step daughters, Dr. Mimi Gladstein (Jay) and Mrs. Holli Berry (Bill). Finally, he leaves behind an adoring Museum "family" and his many lifelong friends. In addition, the family would like to thank Rafaela, Maythe, Paty, Lulu, Graciela, Irene, Susana and Francis Leon for their devoted care-giving. Juan Ibarra's attentions are also appreciated. Instead of flowers and food, the family is sure that Henry would have preferred donations to the El Paso Holocaust Museum in his memory.
Funeral Service will be held on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 11:00 AM at the B'nai Zion Synagogue, 805 Cherry Hill Ln., El Paso, Texas 79912. Interment will follow after the funeral services at B'nai Zion Cemetery, El Paso, Texas. Services entrusted to Martin Funeral Home West, 128 N. Resler Dr., El Paso, Texas 79912. www.MartinFuneralHomeWest.com.