LOS ANGELES — The 4’11” French Jewish woman was walking through a field of snow when the ground underneath her began to crack. She was a spy for the Allies, sent to infiltrate the German front, but her military guide had neglected to mention the frozen body of water along the way. When the ice broke and Marthe Cohn fell into the canal, she wondered if this was finally the end.
“I told myself, if you don’t get out from here as fast you can, you’re going to die of hypothermia,” recalled Cohn, now 97.
But perishing wasn’t an option. Dying would mean giving up on her top-secret mission and squandering the courage those closest to her had shown in the face of terror.
Her siblings worked to save fellow Jews from the horrors of the Nazi regime. Her fiancé, Jacques, was also involved with the resistance. He was later executed by the German army for his actions.
Cohn herself had been threatened and insulted for her religion. But she was a spy now — a spy with an important task, and she had no intention of returning to her superiors empty handed.
“I was very lucky,” Cohn told The Times of Israel recently about that night. After pulling herself out of the canal, she wandered around in circles for hours. In the morning, she met up with a Moroccan army regiment. She would have to try again another day.
In the chaos and confusion of war, countless stories of bravery and heroism can slip through the cracks. For five decades, one of those tales belonged to Cohn, a young Jewish woman who snuck into Germany to spy on the Nazis at the tail end of the war. Her rise from loving sister and friend to nurse, to intelligence officer, is one of remarkable perseverance, and will soon be explored in an upcoming documentary, “An Unusual Spy,” from German director Nicola Hens.
by Alex Suskind