Marthe Hoffnung Cohn is a French Jewish woman who worked as a spy in Nazi Germany, risking her life behind enemy lines to collect and deliver intelligence to the Allies.
Born in 1920 in northeastern France, near the German border, Marthe came from a religious family and was the fifth of eight children. A bright and precocious child, Marthe spoke fluent French and German. After high school, she worked at her sister Cecile’s hat shop.
In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded France and took over the Hoffnung sisters’ business. Marthe got a job as an interpreter, but was soon fired for being Jewish. She then enrolled in a local Red Cross nursing program. Her sister was taken to Auschwitz, and killed.
With blond hair and blue eyes, Marthe could pass as Aryan. Standing only 4’11”, she joined the French resistance and was assigned to intelligence work because of her perfect German.
Marthe became “Martha Ulrich,” a German nurse who was searching for her fiancee Hans, a soldier on the front lines. Marthe moved freely along the Nazis’ western front, using her nursing skills to care for soldiers and earn their confidence. As she traveled with the German army, Marthe methodically collected intelligence about troop movements, plans, weapons, and resources. She slipped back and forth between Nazi Germany and Switzerland, where she filed her intelligence reports.
One night, on her way to the Swiss border, she noticed a large German army encampment deep in the Black Forest. An offhand remark by a Nazi officer told her they were waiting to ambush Allied forces. Marthe hurried to relay the information to her commander. Marthe’s intelligence led the Allies to move up their invasion and successfully penetrate the Siegfried Line into German territory.
After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Marthe remained in the country serving as an intelligence officer for the French army. In 1948 she returned to France, and then enrolled in nursing school in Geneva, where she met Major Lloyd Cohn, an American medical student, in 1953. They married and moved to the United States.
Marthe worked as a nurse and had two children. A doting mother and grandmother, Marthe never mentioned her wartime career as a spy because she didn’t think anybody would believe her. Marthe’s family didn’t find out about her remarkable heroism until 1999, when she was awarded the Medaille Militaire, a prestigious French military award.
In 2002, Marthe published her memoir, “Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.” Today, Marthe is 96 and lives in Pacific Palisades, CA. She maintains a busy speaking schedule, inspiring audiences with her dramatic story of courage and determination.
For bravely risking her life to stop the Nazi war machine, we honor Marthe Cohn as this week’s Thursday Hero at Accidental Talmudist.
Get the best of Accidental Talmudist in your inbox: sign up for our monthly newsletter.
Read Marthe’s book, Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany – Here!