French Jewish spy discusses her role in World War II

May 1, 2013


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.
VICTORY TWP. — For 50 years Marthe Cohn kept the story of her role in World War II to herself. She didn’t think what she had done was that significant. But, Cohn, a French-born Jew, played an important role as a spy which likely saved thousands of lives.
The 93-year-old spoke today in front of a packed Center Theater at West Shore Community College.
Cohn was born in Metz, a city located in northeast France in the Lorraine-Moselle region 36 miles from the German border. The region was an area of dispute between France and Germany in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. It was annexed by Germany following a peace treaty in 1870. Following the Treaty of Marseilles in 1918, it was returned to France, only to be invaded again by Germany in 1940.
Though French was taught in most German schools, children in the Lorraine-Moselle region were not allowed to learn their native language between 1870 and 1918. For this reason, Cohn’s parents spoke only German, meaning she had to learn German as well as French.
As the Germans invaded France, her family escaped to southern, unoccupied France. Over time she was able to receive fake identification papers that did not identify her as Jewish. She even was able to complete her education as a nurse and lived and worked in Paris until it was liberated by the United States Army in 1944.
During that time her sister was arrested, eventually ending up in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, never to be heard of again.
Her brothers and two of her sisters were in the French resistance, but at 4-foot, 11-inches with blue eyes and blond hair Cohn had a difficult time being taken seriously, until after Paris’ liberation. In November 1944 she joined the French army.
The army was looking for female spies who spoke German. Because of this she was assigned to intelligence with the assignment of going into Germany.
After 13 unsuccessful attempts to cross the front in Alsace, she crossed the border into Germany near Schaffhausen in Switzerland. From Germany, she was able to report to her service two major pieces of information: that northwest of Freiburg, the Siegfried Line had been evacuated and where the remnant of the German Army laid in ambush in the Black Forest.

Cohn is the author of the book “Behind Enemy Lines: the True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.” The book tells Cohn’s story and how she eventually was decorated with the Croix de Guerre, a high military honor.

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