Marthe Cohn Speaks on Surviving the Holocaust and Spying for the French in Nazi Germany 

click to enlarge Marthe Cohn is a former French spy and a Holocaust survivor. - PHOTO BY HARRISON BERRY
  • photo by Harrison Berry
  • Marthe Cohn is a former French spy and a Holocaust survivor.

It wasn't until years after the end of World War II that Marthe Cohn, now 95, learned what happened to her sister. The Cohns were an Orthodox Jewish family living in France during the war and when Cohn's sister was swept into the camp system deporting Jews to Germany and Eastern Europe, the family plotted her escape. Cohn's sister told them if she escaped, they would all be arrested. 

"I had never thought about that," Cohn said.

Cohn's talk, "Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany," took place before a full house at the Esther Simplot Center for the Performing Arts Feb. 28, courtesy of the Chabad Jewish Center.

After the war, a Jewish lawyer and his German wife based in Paris published descriptions of convoys from France to Auschwitz. Marthe's sister's name was on one of the manifests, but she may have never made it to the notorious death camp.

"She was never tattooed. She just disappeared," Marthe said. 

Approximately 75 percent of French Jews survived the Holocaust, protected in part by French bureaucracy and local resistance to the Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime. When the Allies began retaking France, Cohn joined the French 1st Army, first as a social worker. Later, on account of her fluency in French and German, she was recruited as a spy. 

Cohn snuck into Germany twice, and her missions were broad: Posing as a nurse, she reported on military movements and observed the activities of ordinary Germans as the Third Reich crumbled. During her first incursion into enemy territory, she learned about the abandonment of the Siegfried Line—a military line along Germany's border with France—that permitted swifter Allied entry into Germany.

During that adventure, she witnessed the depopulation of Freiburg. After complaining to a German officer that she felt the German Army wasn't protecting German citizens, the officer told her not to worry—a remnant of the army was waiting for advancing Allied troops in the Black Forest. She soon reported the location of the remnant to the Allies.

"I was a perfect German patriot," she said.
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