There were other reasons, too. Seventy-five percent of Jews survived in France. And so many non-Jews risked their lives to save ours. Wasn’t that our duty to defend our country too? It was our duty, absolutely – Marthe Cohn
Born a French Jew in Metz, France on 13 April 1920, Marthe Hoffnung never once imagined that she would one day become a spy in Nazi Germany. She was one of seven children of an Orthodox Jewish. They lived near the German border in France when Hitler rose to power. As the Nazi occupation expanded, her sister was sent to Auschwitz while her family fled to the south of France.
In the year 1944 after France was liberated, Marthe enlisted and became a member of the Intelligence Service of the French 1st Army. Following 14 unsuccessful attempts to cross the front in Alsace, she crossed the border into Germany near Schaffhausen in Switzerland. She assumed the identity of a German nurse because of her Aryan appearance (blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin) and her ability to speak and read German fluently and claimed that she was searching for her missing fiancée. She provided critical information for the Allied commanders.
For her bravery, Marthe was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire. At the age of 80, she received France’s highest military honor, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour). Her children didn’t know that this woman faced death daily to defeat the Nazi Empire. Under extraordinary circumstances, this ordinary woman became the heroine for her country. She helped to defeat the enemies of freedom.
After the war Marthe returned to France and pursued a career as a nurse. In1956, while studying in Geneva, she met an American medical student, Major L. Cohn, who was a friend’s roommate. Within three years, they got married and settled down in the United States. They worked together for years, he as an anesthesiologist and she as a nurse before they retired.
In 2002, Marthe co-authored with Wendy Holden a book about her experiences entitled, Behind Enemy Lines: the True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany. She is now 99 years old and is currently living with her husband husband in Palos Verdes, California. She continues to tell her story because “human beings have very short memories and it’s extremely important to remind them of what happened.” In particular, the extermination of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
Today, on Remembrance Day, Notes to Women wishes to acknowledge and salute this brave woman who risked her life to help to put an end to an evil regime. She did her duty.
Let us remember all of the brave men and women who risked their lives for our freedom.