Saturday, September 18, 2010
"the tale of an ordinary human being who, under extraordinary circumstances, became the hero her country needed her to be"
Marthe Cohn was in her late teens when Hitler was rising to power. Living across the German border in Alsace-Lorraine, her family began taking in Jews who were fleeing the Nazis, as well as the Jewish children being sent away by terrified parents. Soon her own homeland was under Nazi rule, and she and her parents, brothers, and sisters were forced to live the restricted lives of all Jews. As the Nazi occupation of France escalated along with the war, Marthe’s sister was arrested and eventually sent to Auschwitz, and the rest of her family was forced to flee to the south of France. Always a fighter, Marthe joined the French Army.
Behind Enemy Lines is Marthe Cohn’s memoir of a time and place that has mesmerized the world for more than half a century. But at its heart it is the tale of an ordinary human being who, under extraordinary circumstances, became the hero her country needed her to be.
Recently, at the age of eighty, Marthe Cohn was awarded France’s highest military honor, the Medaille Militaire, a relatively rare medal awarded for outstanding military service and given, in the past, to the likes of Winston Churchill. With this award came official acknowledgment of the heroic exploits of a beautiful young Jewish woman who faced death every day as she sought to help defeat the Nazi empire.
When the spotlight was turned on Marthe Cohn, not even her children or grandchildren knew to what extent this modest woman had been involved with the Allies in fighting the evils of the greatest war of the twentieth century. She had fought valiantly to retrieve needed inside information about Nazi troop movements by slipping behind enemy lines, utilizing her perfect German accent and blond hair to pose as a young German nurse who was desperately trying to obtain word about a fictional fiancé. In traveling about the countryside and approaching troops sympathetic to her plight, she learned where they were going next and was able to alert Allied commanders.