Cohn, Marthe 1920-
COHN, Marthe 1920-
Born 1920, in Metz, France; immigrated to the United States; married Major L. Cohn (an anesthesiologist); children: two sons.
Home—Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Harmony Books, Crown Publishing Group, Random House, Inc., 201 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022.
Nurse. Military service: French army, nurse, intelligence officer during World War II; awarded the Medaille Militaire for outstanding military service, 2000.
(With Wendy Holden) Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2002.
At the age of eighty, Marthe Cohn was awarded the prestigious Medaille Militaire for her service as an intelligence officer in the French army during World War II. Cohn, a fair-haired Jew who was fluent in German, became a spy who, beginning at the age of twenty-four, made many trips behind enemy lines to return with information critical to the Allies. Cohn's children grew up not knowing of their mother's heroism until her story was published as Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the memoir "the amazing story of a woman who lived through one of the worst times in human history … surviving with her spirit and integrity intact."
Cohn was born Marthe Hoffnung in the city of Metz, thirty miles from the French-German border. Hers was a large, loving Jewish family that was active in the Resistance movement. Cohn lost a sister at Auschwitz and a fiancé who was tortured and shot in Paris in 1943. The family fled the German occupiers and relocated in Vichy-controlled southern France. Cohn continued her nursing education and joined the Underground.
When it was discovered that Cohn spoke fluent German, she was asked if she would train to work in intelligence. She agreed, and after fourteen failed attempts to cross into Germany, she succeeded. She carried papers identifying her as a German nurse, as well as photos of a German soldier, who, in fact, had been captured by the Allies. As she traveled through Germany accumulating information, she showed his picture to German military she met, begging their help in locating her missing lover. She helped a sick SS officer who, in gratitude, offered to take her to the front lines to look for the young man. When she met a group of German soldiers, she expressed fear of the Allied forces, and they told her exactly where the Germans were waiting to attack. Cohn returned to the Swiss border where she passed the information on to the French.
After the war, Cohn served as a nurse in the French army, stationed in Vietnam. She then returned home, and when she pursued her studies in Geneva, Switzerland, she met the American she would marry and with whom she traveled to the United States. During the 1990s, she returned to France requesting her military records in order to regain her French citizenship. Dual citizenship had become easier to establish, and she needed the records to make her case. When officials saw her records, they urged her to apply for the Medaille Militaire, which she did. The award for outstanding military service has been awarded to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and various French generals, beginning in 1852. In reviewing the memoir, Booklist's Elsa Gaztambide said that Cohn relates "her amazing story of unprecedented bravery with simplicity and modesty."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cohn, Marthe, and Wendy Holden, Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, October 1, 2002, Elsa Gaztambide, review of Behind Enemy Lines, p. 297.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2002, review of Behind Enemy Lines, pp. 1512-1513.
Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2000, Jessica Garrison, "Heroism: In World II, Marthe Cohn Crawled across Enemy Lines As a Spy—Finally She Is Getting Her Due," p. B1.
Publishers Weekly, September 9, 2002, review of Behind Enemy Lines, p. 49.*