She lost her sister in Auschwitz. Her boyfriend and future brother-in-law to a firing squad. All three for Resistance activities. She herself lived off forged papers before joining the French Army, going behind Nazi lines as a nurse and providing key military intel on troop movements that won her a couple dozen medals. When the war was over, she was in Occupied Germany and then left the army to be a nurse in Cambodia and Vietnam. This is the life of Marthe Cohn.
I went to hear her speak last night at the Buckhead Theatre. Cohn is 97 but a pretty lively speaker and it was easy to tell had a bit of wit about her. Sitting next to her was her husband who helped her along at times. The event was sold out and some schools must have made the night a project because there were a fair number of school-aged kids on hand. I sat next to a few. They were well-behaved and listened intently. A good sign for the future.
Marthe has written a book about her exploits, Behind Enemy Lines. I found her discussion frank, without hyperbole so my guess is that the book is a good read.
She was at her best when she was describing her sister - a hero in her own right - and the fate that befell her after she was arrested, put in a French camp, then eventually deported to Auschwitz. Clearly, this experience remains an open wound in her mind.
It was interesting to hear first hand the exploits of a spy and also the situation the French Army found itself in toward the end of the war. From her talk, I also learned how vast the French resistance to the German occupation was and how the population circumvented German rule to keep Jews and others alive.
The only downside to the night was the Buckhead Theatre itself or the organizers. I can't say which. There were technical difficulties with the curtains not working right. Also a DVD was played at the very beginning and it had a severe buffering problem which someone should've known about before the presentation. But the audience bore with it.
You can see pictures of Marthe Cohn in this post - she is very short - and the medals she won which were on display (although the Theatre never turned up the lights afterwards to get a good shot). Overall, it was an interesting story to hear and a fine way to spend a Thursday evening.