Marthe Cohn

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Behind Enemy Lines: Marthe Cohn

The number of people who took part in the Second World War is slowly dwindling. But it’s important that we should never forget them- and the heroism that so many of them showed during that terrible conflict.

You can read about many of them in this book by Marthe Cohn. Marthe  Hoffnung (her maiden name) was born in 1920 and was still a teenager when war broke out.  Yet she worked as  spy, travelling into Germany and collecting vital information about troop movements.

Not only was Marthe a Frenchwoman and a spy, she was also Jewish.

Her entire family helped other Jews to escape from occupied France and some members of the family worked actively for the Resistance. Her book tells their stories plus those of other heroes who risked their lives to help persecuted Jews in addition to undermining the German war effort.

I have never before read a book that tells of so much bravery, courage and suffering.

Marthe and her family were only able to escape from occupied France to the Free Zone thanks to a mild-mannered Jewish clerk who used his skills to create false identity papers for Jews who were attempting to flee from persecution.  He was just one man out of thousands of people who were risking their lives to help others.

In this book, you’ll read about Jacques Delaunay, Marthe’s fiancé. He and his younger brother Marc were also involved in the Resistance and were shot by  German firing squad because they had sabotaged an armaments train. Jacques and Marc were twenty-one and nineteen respectively when they were executed. And they were ordinary people – but people who were determined that their country should be free. Many of the heroes that Marthe worked with were also, like herself, very young.

Marthe’s sister Stephanie was only twenty when she was arrested for helping Jewish families escape to the Free Zone. At first, she was imprisoned locally but her family then heard that she was moved to an unknown destination. That destination was Auschwitz. There were 1,157 men, women and children in the convoy that took her to the concentration camp. At the end of the war, only twenty-three had survived. Stephanie was not amongst them.

In total, more than thirty members of Marthe’s immediate Jewish family did not survive the Nazi persecution.

But strangely, when you read this book it is not the horrors that will stay with you. It is the bravery and resolve of the people and it’s their stories and sacrifices that you’ll remember.

Most of us know only too well about the horrors of the concentration camps and the way that the holocaust started when Jewish people were persecuted in their hometowns. And it’s easy to get the impression that they were a docile race who didn’t fight back. This is so far from the truth as this book demonstrates only too well.

Jews and Gentiles worked together and although they were not an organised army, they were fighting for their country. What is truly remarkable about this book is how these heroes were just ordinary people leading ordinary lives until the Germans came along and occupied their country. Jacques and Marc were not Jewish and were executed by firing squad. Had Marthe and her fellow Jews who were working against the Germans been caught, they would have suffered an even worse ordeal. They would have been sent to the brutal concentration camps and worked to death. Or they would have been bled dry by doctors taking blood for transfusions for war wounded. Or they would have slowly starved to death or been the victim of fatal and terrible disease. They could have been beaten or kicked to death. They would most certainly have been tortured by the Nazis, trying to discover their contacts and colleagues.

This is an astounding book about incredible bravery and I recommend it highly.


Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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