CLEVELAND — Don't let her appearance fool you.
At 4'11" tall and 99 years old, Marthe Cohn still has the photographic memory that made her a World War II spy.
"I didn't have a compass, or a map. Everything I needed to know, I had in my memory," recalled Cohn.
The Holocaust survivor and former spy for the French military shared her riveting story, with her husband by her side, before a sold-out crowd at Case Western Reserve University's Maltz Performing Arts Center in Cleveland Wednesday night. The event, "Behind Enemy Lines with Marthe Cohn," was hosted by Chabad at CWRU, which provides social, educational, and spiritual services for Jewish students and the community.
"'Behind Enemy Lines with Marthe Cohn,' inspires us to have the courage to do what is right and what is necessary even in the most difficult of circumstances," said Rabbi Mendy Alevsky, who co-directs Chabad at CWRU with his wife, Sara.
"It is rare to have the chance to meet a Holocaust survivor and heroine like Marthe," said Alevsky in a statement. "Chabad at CWRU is so privileged to provide this opportunity to learn from a voice of experience and moral strength."
After her sister was tragically imprisoned at Auschwitz, Cohn escaped arrest and later joined the French military. The petite, blonde, blue-eyed young woman was also fluent in German, so she caught the eye of French intelligence officials, who recruited her to be an undercover spy.
"I had wondered what kind of predicament I put myself, but it was too late," she said with a laugh.
Cohn posed as a German nurse, looking for her Nazi fiancé, who was captured by the Allies. Her intelligence gathering on Nazi troop movements helped to save Allied lives.
"I wanted to save my country," she said. "I wanted Germany out of my country, and I was given an opportunity."
For decades, she kept her past a secret until 1996, when the French military confirmed her service, and bestowed upon her, prestigious medals of honor. She also authored a book, "Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany."
Though she never set out to be a spy, her fate, and faith led her to fight for freedom.
"I knew all the risks. But at the time it was normal to do everything for our own country," she said.