6:54 p.m. PDT June 7, 2016
Marthe Cohn, born in 1920, was a Jewish woman living just across the German border in France when Adolf Hitler rose to power.
As the Nazi occupation escalated, Marthe’s sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. The rest of her family was forced to flee to the south of France as Marthe joined the French Army.
As a member of the intelligence service of the French First Army, Marthe fought to retrieve inside information about Nazi troop movements by “slipping behind enemy lines” as a spy.
This week, Cohn will share her story with the local community.
The event, “Behind Enemy Lines – An Historic Evening with Marthe Cohn,” is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Willamette University, 900 State Street, in Hudson Hall.
Cohn said she will first show a short video, then discuss the escape of her family from occupied to non-occupied France, her joining the First French Army after the liberation of Paris — where she had moved after graduating as a registered nurse from The French Red Cross School of Nursing in Marseille.
She will also talk about her life in the army and how she was transferred to the Army Intelligence service, her training as a spy, and her assignation to the Commandos of Africa, a French regiment of the First French Army.
“As the generation who bears witness to the atrocities of World War II slowly fades, I believe it is incumbent on us to hear the stories of that generation,” said Rabbi Avrohom Y. Perlstein with the Chabad Jewish Center in Salem, who helped organize the event. “We need to make every effort to listen to those strong lessons and never forget that troubling time in our world’s history.
“When we pay attention to these stories, we will make sure this world is a better place through tolerance and acceptance of all people,” he said.
Not only has Cohn received numerous rewards from the French government, she said the German government rewarded her in 2014 with the Medal of Merit — “Verdienst Kreuz” — for helping Germany “become a democracy again and for (saving) untold number of lives by shortening the war” with the information she was able to discover and successfully managed to send to her intelligence service without radio.
“I (have) had an extremely interesting life — sometimes very harsh, sometimes very pleasant — but always lively,” she said.
Tickets are available online for $12 or for $18 at the door.
Marthe’s book “Behind Enemy Lines” will be available for purchase at the event. A book signing will follow her talk.
Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal. Contact Natalie at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist or on the Web at nataliepate.com