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Holocaust survivor shares stories with sold-out USM crowd

A 99-year-old author, former spy and Holocaust survivor recently shared stories with a sold-out crowd at USM’s Hannaford Hall.

Marthe Cohn asked attendees to fight today’s propaganda and attacks on the press, saying they were too similar to the actions that allowed Hitler and his supporters to take control of Germany when she was young.

“I am very concerned,” Cohn said.” We have to fight back, like we fought the Nazis.”

The appearance was covered by reporter Dennis Hoey of the Portland Press Herald.

“Cohn was born in 1920 into an Orthodox Jewish family that lived in Metz, a small French town on the country’s border with Germany,” Hoey wrote. “One of seven children, she and her family were caught up in the world-changing events spawned by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and the Nazi occupation of France.

“During World War II, her family sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazis including children who had been sent away by their terrified parents. As the Nazi occupation of France escalated, her sister was arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp where she later died. Her family fled to the south of France.”

In November 1944, six months before Germany’s surrender, the French Army Intelligence Service recruited Cohn to serve as a Nazi spy.

Cohn recounted her experiences in her autobiography: “Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.” Cohn and writer Wendy Holden collaborated on the 2002 book.

The USM event was co-sponsored by Chabad Maine, the USM Dean of Students Office and the USM Religious and Spiritual Life Council.

“Thank you for filling the house tonight and every seat is filled,” USM President Glenn Cummings said. “We are lucky to have this person, who wasn’t afraid to stand up in the face of terror.”

Photos by Portland Press Herald photographer Derek Davis