SPY BAT­TLED THE NAZIS

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No French man could have served as a spy in Sec­ond World War Ger­many: Any male 12 years or older was en­listed in the army.But no one would sus­pect Marthe Cohn, née Hoff­nung.The blond 24-year-old Jewish woman en­listed in the French army in the au­tumn of 1944.“I felt that it was a duty of ev­ery­body to do the max­i­mum to get the Ger­mans out of France,” Cohn, now 98, said Mon­day af­ter­noon in her suite at Ho­tel Saskatchewan.She will share her story with Saskatchewan au­di­ences this week — in Regina on Tues­day and Saska­toon on Thurs­day.About three weeks into her army stint as a “so­cial worker,” the pe­tite sergeant was asked to join the in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, when the colonel learned she could speak and read Ger­man.As­signed to the Com­man­dos d’afrique for train­ing in Cer­nay, her task was to pose as a nurse in Ger­many col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence for the French army.When Cohn joined that unit in Jan­uary 1945, it had lost 192 sol­diers in a sin­gle day to Ger­mans “fight­ing des­per­ately to pre­vent the al­lied armies to en­ter Ger­many.”In­for­ma­tion could be vi­tal to the Al­lied cause.It wasn’t an easy job.Cohn got scared “very of­ten,” she said with a lit­tle laugh. “You can­not do that work with­out hav­ing scary mo­ments.”She got lucky at least once. “Martha Ul­rich” was sup­posed to be a nurse, but there was a hole in her char­ac­ter’s story: She had never been as­signed the name of a clinic. At tea with her host in Freiburg, the host’s friend asked the name of the hos­pi­tal, and Cohn made one up.“She said, ‘That sounds more like a ho­tel than a clinic.’ I said, ‘You are right, madame. It was a ho­tel be­fore the war, but dur­ing the war it be­came a clinic.’ “An­other time, Cohn was try­ing to get to the Swiss bor­der, so she could com­mu­ni­cate re­con­nais­sance to her unit.She ended up at the side of a road, af­ter an overnight trip on the back of a truck, along with some Ger­man civil­ian trav­ellers.She fell asleep, and awoke to one of them shak­ing her and warn­ing her to take cover. She asked, “Why, what’s go­ing on?” — in French.That set off the Ger­mans’ alarm bells. She man­aged to es­cape their com­pany with a light­hearted, “Air raid or no, I have to re­lieve my­self. My blad­der is fit to burst!” She ran up a hill, spot­ted a horse-drawn milk wagon, and caught a ride to the next city.Serv­ing as a spy was not the first risk Cohn took dur­ing the war.Liv­ing in Poitiers, she started a re­sis­tance group with her younger sis­ter, Stephanie.Cohn said they helped hun­dreds of Jewish peo­ple find their way to a farm safe haven, lo­cated half on un­oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory.Stephanie was found out, though. She was ar­rested on June 17, 1942, three weeks be­fore her 21st birth­day.On Sept. 21, Yom Kip­pur — “the high­est Jewish hol­i­day of the year, like Christ­mas for the Chris­tians” — Stephanie was trans­ported to Auschwitz.Cohn also lost her fi­ancé, Jac­ques De­lau­nay, to a fir­ing squad ex­e­cu­tion. He was in the re­sis­tance.In 1958, she mar­ried the Amer­i­can Maj. Lloyd Cohn; they live in Los An­ge­les County.Now 98, af­ter a ca­reer as a nurse and nu­mer­ous medals to her name — in­clud­ing the Croix de Guerre (1945) and Medaille mil­i­taire (1999) — Cohn shares her story be­cause “it’s ex­tremely im­por­tant.”She did so in de­tail in her 2002 mem­oir, Be­hind En­emy Lines.“Peo­ple have very short mem­o­ries and poor un­der­stand­ing of what’s go­ing on. So you have to re­mind them, and it’s im­por­tant for the young peo­ple to un­der­stand that you have to be en­gaged,” said Cohn.“You can­not just let the other peo­ple do the work. You too have to be en­gaged. And one per­son can make a dif­fer­ence.”“In France, peo­ple be­lieve ... that the re­sis­tance was very lit­tle and it’s ab­so­lutely not true,” added Cohn.“Peo­ple who helped other peo­ple, that was re­sis­tance too, who saved peo­ple. In France, 75 per cent of Jews sur­vived, and they sur­vived be­cause so many non­jews risked their lives to save ours.”Hosted by the Chabad Jewish Cen­tre of Regina, Marthe Cohn presents Be­hind En­emy Lines on Tues­day, 7 p.m., at the Conexus Arts Cen­tre in Regina. Tick­ets start at $38.60 (in­clud­ing taxes and fees), and are avail­able at conexu­sticket.com or by call­ing 306-525-9999.She will speak in Saska­toon on Thurs­day, 7 p.m., at TCU Place. Tick­ets start at $37 (in­clud­ing taxes and fees), and are avail­able at tcutick­ets.ca or by call­ing 306975-7799.

Marthe Cohn, 98, was 24 when she trav­elled to Ger­many with an as­sumed iden­tity in 1944 to col­lect in­for­ma­tion for the French army.

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