personal history

Behind Enemy Lines by Marthe Cohn – a breath-taking account of Death Camp Avoidance

Behind Enemy Lines Marthe Cohn HoffnungMarthe Hoffnung Cohn is an incredible lady. In her book Behind Enemy Lines she tells “the true story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.” It is a story of love, persecution, triumph of hope through despair and victory over loss. Behind Enemy Lines is a beautifully written personal story of triumph of spirit over adversity in the face of the worst of humanity.

Had Marte been caught or turned in as a Jew, we are only too aware of what would have become of her. That knowledge only makes this story more gripping.

I was privileged to receive a copy of the book in my own quest to find out more about what my grandfather experienced as a British soldier fighting on German soil, but little did I expect to be transported seventy years back in time quite so clearly and vividly. Behind Enemy Lines is an extraordinary piece of work, not least because it reads like a novel. The plot seems so unbelievable that it’s hard to believe that one woman could adapt, survive and prosper in the face of such constant persecution and tyranny.

The characters are brought back to life with such love and detail that you’re drawn back in time, back to Nazi occupied France. Marthe’s story is important in helping remember the plight of Jews and other persecuted people in Nazi-controlled Europe because it provides an accurate and real narrative of what life was like before the camps. It charts the steady decline in human rights and privileges so many of us take for granted today.

The story follows her from her family home in Metz, through to Poitiers and further towards the Spanish border, then to Paris and on into Nazi Germany.  It crosses the challenges of being a Jew and a French nationalist. It tells the challenge of survival, personal growth, life and the struggle to avoid personal defeat and belief in victory over facism. There are so many images of prisoners from the concentration camps and death camps, skeletal living remains of people that had seen their lives and liberties stripped from them, but rarely today do we get to know who they were or where they came from. So many documents have been destroyed, records and memories of communities lost forever, one can hardly imagine from these images a realistic picture or understanding of the lives they once led. Marthe Hoffnung overcame so many trials and tribulations in her quest to live. She never gave up hope, blissfully unaware of the depths of depravity her sister Stephanie must have suffered once imprisoned by the Nazi regime.

Throughout her recollection of events in the early 1940s, it is clear to the reader what must have become of her, yet hope springs eternal. The story is all the more remarkable considering what we know today about how Jews such as Marthe and Stephanie were treated. One thinks of Anne Frank and her sister Margot, there but for the grace of God…

Keeping the memory alive has been the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme in 2015 and this grippng account of the life of a young Jewish girl, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend and fiancée not only keeps the memory alive, it brings the reality of that tyrannical and evil time back to life. Behind Enemy Lines by Marthe Cohn is available from Amazon. Please click here to purchase a copy.

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