Marthe Misses Nothing
The Lady was a Spy
During World War II, Marthe Hoffnung was a French espionage agent in Nazi Germany, posing as Martha Ulrich, a 25-year-old ‘Fräulein’ whose cover story was that she needed to find her fiancé at the German front
“You should never accept to be kept under the boot of anybody; you have to fight back.”
Marthe Cohn (nee Hoffnung), was crouching in a forest, dressed in a skirt and jacket, with white socks covering her silk stockings. She took a deep breath and grabbed her suitcase, taking leave of Georges Lemaire, the Swiss intelligence officer who had accompanied her to this spot on the Swiss-German border. Marthe began crawling through the underbrush toward the stretch of road patrolled by two German sentries. She waited until they met midway and reversed direction, so their backs were to her.
This was her cue. She was to pose as Martha Ulrich, a German nurse searching for her fiancé, but she was suddenly paralyzed by fear, overcome by the enormity of her mission, so she just lay there for more than two hours. Then she thought about a captain named Mollat, the French officer who had overseen her previous 14 missions to infiltrate enemy territory, all unsuccessful, and who had doubted her abilities.
She rose, pulling herself up to her full 4-foot-11 height, and walked to the road. “Heil Hitler,” she greeted the sentry coming toward her, presenting her papers. “Go on your way,” he said.
It was April 11, 1945, two days before Marthe’s 25th birthday.
Marthe Cohn was an unlikely World War II spy. At just 4 feet, 11 inches, Cohn was petite with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was also Jewish. Never hesitant to resist an unjust cause, especially during the Nazi reign in World War II, she courageously risked everything and contributed to the Allies’ victory.
With her fair features and flawless German language skills, however, she was able to convince Nazi officers she posed no threat.
“I was now in Germany,” she said.
Cohn had no compass, map, radio or weapons, only clothes without labels and German money and vouchers.
“Everything I needed to know was in my memory,” she said with a smile. “I have a pretty good memory.”
Now 96 years old, Cohn said she feels compelled to travel around the country to share her story with others. “It’s important that people know that Jews fought,” she said. “We were not just waiting to be arrested.”