Mara Kohn, 92, forty-year resident of Santa Barbara, passed away on Monday, December 17, at Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital. Born in Berlin, she escaped Nazi Germany with her family, arriving in New York City in 1940. Residing first in New York, then in North Carolina and Ohio, she arrived in California in 1959 with her first husband, Otto Schiff, and their children Naomi and Benjamin.
Volunteering at the Sunair Home for Asthmatic Children in Tujunga beginning in 1963, she rose to become the institution’s Director. Subsequently she entered the field of special education eventually becoming a lead teacher and administrator at the Mardan School in Costa Mesa.
Mara moved to Santa Barbara in 1978 with her second husband, Professor Walter Kohn, when he became the founding director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at U.C. Santa Barbara (now the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics). Mara taught English as a Second Language and brought the Portraits of Survival project to the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara.
From 1990 onward, Mara was absorbed with organizing and managing the legacy of her father, photographer and biologist Roman Vishniac. She edited three books reproducing his work, managed innumerable details in connection with exhibitions and related publications. In 2018 she donated approximately 30,000 items to the University of California at Berkeley’s Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, constituting the bulk of the Vishniac archive.
Professor Kohn, a 1998 Nobel Laureate, died in 2016. Mara is survived by her daughter Naomi Schiff, son Ben Schiff, granddaughters Ruby and Zina Goodall and Melina Schiff, Walter’s family, and many wonderful friends.
In lieu of flowers, please contribute to one of Mara’s cherished causes:
International Rescue Committee
Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara
Photo credit: Laura Bialis