Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Metz, France, she was 20 when her country fell to Adolf Hitler’s tanks and planes in spring 1940. Four years later, after the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation, Marthe Cohn enlisted as an Allied spy.
Now 99 years old, Cohn relaxed comfortably in a chair on stage in Franklin & Marshall’s Alumni Sports and Fitness Center, where she captivated the Sept. 5 Common Hour audience with her story of danger and bravery, a story never told until decades later when she co-authored the 2002 book, “Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.”
In a short film that introduced the former nurse and Holocaust survivor, the diminutive woman explained why she waited so long to tell her story. “No one would believe me,” Cohn said. “I’m a very unlikely spy.”
As Cohn described, she was almost childlike in appearance, but she engaged in some harrowing adventures to help the Allies win the war. She walked and biked long distances, even immersed herself in a canal’s cold waters, to relay vital information including a plan to ambush American forces in Germany’s Black Forest.
For her valiant efforts, Cohn was awarded one of France’s highest military decorations, the Croix de Guerre, in 1945. She has since received other awards and medals. For more information about Common Hour, visit here.