Marthe Cohn will speak of her experiences as a World War II spy
Marthe Cohn’s life is the stuff films are made of.
She was born in 1920 and lived in France when Hitler rose to power. Her family sheltered Jews until the Nazis invaded.
After Cohn’s sister was sent to Auschwitz, her family relocated to the south France, but Cohn decided to join the French First Army’s intelligence service.
In short order, she became a spy and, under the guise of a young German nurse who sought information about a missing fiancé, ventured behind enemy lines to gather information about Nazi troops for Allied forces.
Cohn published those experiences in her book "Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany."
Cohn, who is 95, will share her experiences when Chabad Lubavitch of Park City brings her to the Montage Deer Valley on Thursday, Feb. 25. Cohn is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m.
In addition, the evening will feature Holocaust survivor Leon Malmed, author of "We Survived At Last I Speak."
During a phone call from France, Cohn spoke briefly to The Park Record about her presentation.
"The idea of these presentations is to show the suffering of the Jews during the war," she said. "They were slaves in the camps, but I also feel it’s a very important message to show that Jews were also fighting during the war."
While serving as a spy, Cohn who would sneak across the Swiss border into Germany and crawl back after she finished her missions. doing so she was able to warn the allies about the evacuation of the Siegfried Line northwest of Freiberg and of an ambush the troops had set up in the Black Forest, she said.
In 1945, Cohn was twice awarded the Croix de Guerre, a medal that honored those who fought for the Allies. The first was signed by Lt. Col. Georges-Regis Bouvet in August and the second was signed by Marechal Alphonse Juin in November.
Yet, despite her accomplishments and the amazing details of her story, Cohn didn’t really talk about those days publically until 1996.
"No one in America or in France was interested in what happened during World War II at that time," she said. "Everyone, it seemed, was looking towards the future and not the past, but after 1995, people started being interested about what happened during World War II."
That’s why she has spent her life since then bringing her presentations to places around the world.
"When I give these presentations, most of the young people in the audience don’t know much about the extent of what happened during World War II," she said. "So, it is important that I continue to do this."
Chabad Lubavitch of Park City is honored to bring both Cohn and Malmed to Park City, according to Director Rabbi Yudi Steiger.
"She isn’t just a survivor, but a fighter and she was there in the middle of it all," he said. "She found meaning, and as she said, the most important thing for her is to show that the Jews were also involved in the fight."
That means a lot to Steiger, because although he was born into and grew up in a Jewish household, his family didn’t talk about their experiences.
"I, myself, am a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and was born and raised in Belgium, where my parents still live," Steiger said. "Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born, and my grandmother died when I was 8.
"She was one of nine siblings and lost all of them during that time but never spoke of what happened," he said. "No one broached the subject."
Chabad Lubavitch of Park City decided to bring Cohn and Malmed to Park City after they presented Eva Schloss, the step-sister of Anne Frank, last year.
"Close to 400 people showed up," Steiger said. "That’s when we saw how much people really wanted to know more about the Holocaust and what happened.
"My only hope is that students will come to the event this year and learn," he said. "This is such an important message and topic to bring to people."
Chabad Lubavitch of Park City will present Marthe Cohn, who was a French Jewish spy in Nazi Germany during World War II, at Montage Deer Valley, on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. The evening will also feature Holocaust survivor and author Leon Malmed. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. For more information and to RSVP, called 435-714-8590 or visit http://www.jewishparkcity.com.
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The film captures a transparent self-portrait of the American wilderness, emphasizing the importance of communication that goes beyond listening for the sake of responding.