A 96-year-old former spy who risked her life by infiltrating Nazi Germany to uncover the inner workings of Hitler's army was honoured in Montreal Tuesday night.
Marthe Cohn used her perfect German accent and blond hair to pretend to be a German nurse. The young Jewish woman would approach Nazis in the German countryside and befriend them to learn their travel plans before relaying the plans back to French Allies.
"They considered me a perfect German patriot," Cohn told CTV Montreal in an interview Tuesday.
Cohn has already received many accolades for her bravery, including France's Medaille Militaire, an elite award reserved for extraordinary acts of military service. She spoke in Montreal Tuesday night to mark an annual Holocaust memorial event.
Cohn joined the French military at the age of 24. After Germany invaded France in 1940, her sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz while the rest of her family fled to the south of France.
Her time as a spy was fraught with danger. During one undercover mission across the border, a woman who Cohn stayed with asked her point-blank if she was an imposter.
"She looked straight in my eyes and she said, 'Fraulein, are you a spy?' And I started laughing and I bent forward, stretched my arms out and said, 'Do I look like a spy?' And she said no, she started laughing too."
Cohn says the key to her success was a seamless disguise.
"Nobody ever asked me, and I didn't look Jewish," she said.
Despite the bold acts of bravery, many of Cohn's children and grandchildren were unaware of her courageous service in World War II. Even Cohn's husband says he was unaware of her story until she published it in a book, "Behind Enemy Lines."
"I saw her preliminary copies of it, and I said 'Wow,'" said Major Cohn.
It was that book that inspired Rabbi Moshe Krasnanski to invite Cohn to speak at the Montreal event.
"Not only did she have bravery to save herself, but she put her life in danger to help the Allies beat the Nazis," Krasnanski said.
The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Montreal's Chabad of the Town.