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The Heroics of Marthe Cohn

Marthe Cohn and husband, Major Cohn, discusses her story with the audience (Katie Schmitz / The Index)

On March 31, Marthe Cohn, a 95 year-old WWII veteran told her story on Western Michigan University’s campus. Cohn was a member of the French Army as a spy who infiltrated the Nazi front lines to gain information for the Allies. In her position, she enabled the Allies to more quickly defeat Nazi Germany.

At first, Cohn remained quiet about her exploits as a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany. “I was a very unlikely spy,” Cohn commented. But with her novel Behind Enemy Lines and the numerous awards she has received, her story is becoming more widely known.

To begin the event, a video was shown to summarize Cohn’s journey. Cohn was born in 1920 in Metz, France, which is near the border of Germany in the region of Alsace-Lorraine. When the northern half of France came under the influence of Nazi Germany, Cohn’s family fled to the south of France where Cohn attended nursing school.

Before moving further into her story, Cohn honored her sister’s memory by telling her story too. Cohn’s sister, Stephanie, was captured in June 1942 by the SiPo, which Cohn explained was a Nazi police force. They suspected Stephanie of aiding the resistance and sent her first to prison and then to a concentration camp where she, with her previous medical education, cared for the children. Thus when Cohn’s family tried to help her escape, she declined for she felt it was her duty to stay and help. She was then transferred to Auschwitz and was never heard from again.

Cohn worked in Paris under a false identification until the Allies liberated France. Then Cohn joined the French Army as a nurse in 1944 but was moved into Intelligence after the Army learned that she could speak fluent German. Cohn explained that she was told she was being put in social work. She was sent to infiltrate the front lines of the Nazi’s under the cover of a German nurse looking for her Nazi fiancé. She was able to bring back information to the Allies that allowed them to know the Nazi’s movements and plans.

“It was really cool that at 95, Marthe was still able to share her story so eloquently… Hearing stories about her family taking action against injustice, particularly women such as her sister in such brutal circumstances was really powerful,” Jessica Paul K’16 said after the event.

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The Heroics of Marthe Cohn