Marthe Cohn, an author and Holocaust survivor, will talk about her experiences fleeing, fighting and living under Nazi rule during World War II at a lecture March 17 at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore.
Cohn, now 95, was a devoutly religious 19 year old French Jewish girl when the Nazis invaded France in 1939. Her life then took a turn so extraordinary that it could have been pulled straight from a Hollywood movie script, said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, director of the Chabad of the Tri Valley, a Pleasanton-based Jewish community center that is sponsoring the lecture.
While the rest of Cohn's family fled south, she decided to fight back. After graduating from nursing school she joined the French resistance and, because of her perfect German accent and Aryan appearance, was recruited to be a spy.
Carrying forged identification papers, she infiltrated German territory in the guise of a German nurse desperately searching for a fictional fiancé (by this time her real-life fiancé had been executed by the Nazis).
During the next year, she mingled freely with Nazi troops, on many occasions caring for injured Nazi soldiers in order to maintain her cover. She gathered invaluable information on troop positions which she secretly relayed to Allied commanders. Her intelligence gathering was instrumental in allowing the Allies to break through the Seigfried line and enter German territory in 1945, leading to the end of the war.
When, at the age of eighty, Marthe Cohn was awarded France's highest military honor, the Médaille Militaire, not even her children knew to what extent this modest woman had faced death daily while helping defeat the Nazi empire.
"As the number of holocaust survivors dwindles, we feel it our duty to bring these individuals and their stories to life for our community, especially for our youth," Resnick said. "It's literally touching such an important a piece of history."
Following the lecture, Cohn will be available to sign copies of her memoir, "Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany."
Tickets for the lecture start at $20. For more information or to purchase tickets, sign on to the Chabad's website at www.JewishTriValley.com/ or call (925) 846-0700.