Former French spy-turned-author Marthe Cohn will speak at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center on Sept. 18.
“I’d heard about her and I just thought her story was fascinating,” said Sara Alevsky. “Usually when we hear, ‘Holocaust,’ we hear more of the survivor story. We never really hear about ... a Jewish hero who actually changed the course of the (war).”
Sara Alevsky and her husband, Rabbi Mendy Alevsky, of the Chabad at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland spearheaded efforts to bring Cohn to Cleveland.
The rabbi attributes the success of their endeavor to his wife, noting she spent about three years emailing with Cohn before the former spy agreed to speak in Cleveland.
“We felt like this is a story that the students need to hear,” Mendy Alevsky said.
When Hitler rose to power, Cohn was a young Jewish woman living just across the German border in France. Her family sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazis until their homeland was also under Nazi rule. Cohn’s sister was ultimately arrested and sent to Auschwitz. The rest of her family was forced to flee to the south of France, but Cohn joined the French Army, becoming a member of its intelligence service.
“I thought that was an incredible twist to bring to Cleveland, especially a woman and someone so amazing,” Sara Alevsky said. “We’re lucky because she’s really old. She’s celebrating a very big birthday in a few months, she’s turning 100.”
Those who attend the event will hear Cohn’s firsthand account of how she lived through one of the worst times in human history.
“We’re expecting to fill the house,” said Sara Alevsky, noting the center has about 1,100 seats. Tickets are free and attendees can purchase signed copies of Cohn’s memoir, “Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.”
Sara Alevsky wants people to understand the importance of the event.
“She’s a hero, a Jewish person who infiltrated enemy lines, putting herself in danger just to help others,” Sara Alevsky explained. “This might be one of the last chances for us to hear and see someone in person from that generation who actually ... did something to change the course of the war.”
The Cleveland Jewish News is a media partner of the event.