Holocaust survivor shares incredible story, imparts wisdom to CSU community.


Marthe Cohn – Sweet Justice Photography

“Never accept an order that your conscience refuses.”

Last Wednesday 1,750 people including students, community members and city officials flooded the Lory Student Center Ballroom to hear Marthe Cohn speak during Colorado State University’s 21st annual Holocaust Awareness Week.

Cohn, 97, was born in Metz, France in 1920. But by her 24th birthday, she was working as a spy in French Intelligence getting ready to cross into Nazi Germany.

Cohn, gained her position in the Intelligence after she was singled out for her fluency in German. Soon she was offered, and accepted, a position in the intelligence branch. Before she could blink an eye she was on the border of France getting ready to spy on Nazi Germany.

Marthe’s time in intelligence took many roads. As an undercover German nurse, she mended to health an SS soldier who said he could “smell Jews a mile away;” Alone during winter, she once slipped into an icy moat while on a mission sneaking into Germany. And those are just a few of her bone-chilling accounts. The rest are chronicled in her book, Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany,” which you can purchase here.  

Although Marthe’s incredible work as a spy has led to many accolades and awards gifted by the French and German government, no award will bring back her family members lost in the war.

A crowd of 1,750 people tune in as Marthe Cohn speaks – Sweet Justice Photography

Marthe’s sister, Stephanie, 21, was arrested and taken by the SiPo, a Nazi Military police unit when France was invaded by Germany. For many years Marthe and her family had no idea what happened to Stephanie. Not until decades later did Marthe learn that her sister was taken to Auschwitz and never seen again.

It is anecdotes like those from Marthe that should remind all Jews, and non-Jews, of the importance of remembering the Holocaust, and all the individuals and families broken apart inhumanely.

Cohn’s speech also presented an opportunity for students and community members to listen, learn, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of individuals like Marthe.

“I think this is a really important, and rare opportunity to hear these stories,” said Hillel President Nevan Mandel.

“This is so unique and very few get to have this, fortunately, we do not have to experience what (Marthe) did but the perspective that comes hearing her story is invaluable for us all. I can’t stress enough the importance of hearing these stories,” said Mandel.

Marthe Cohn looks out at an attentive crowd during her speech at CSU – Sweet Justice Photography.

Marthe’s visit to campus was even more poignant as CSU’s campus community has been hit with a wave of racism and anti-Semitism throughout this academic year, most recently earlier this month when neo-Nazi’s protested on campus.   

When asked how younger generations should combat neo-Nazi’s and anti-Semitism, Cohn made one thing clear: leave no room to dispute.

“I would tell them to bring back my sister. She was a medical student and died in Auschwitz. If I showed them a picture of her they cannot deny it,” she said. “You have to present something absolutely so they cannot deny it.”

One prominent factor Cohn loves about telling her life story is being able to speak to younger generations, as it is something she takes great pride in.

“You’re the future and I am the past,” she said. Adding that, “it’s very important you know what happened, so  you can prepare, because history repeats itself constantly.”

As for how students and the CSU community can combat hateful and bigoted ideologies, Cohn left a simple yet powerful message for the crowd to ruminate over.

“Never accept an order that your conscience refuses.”


My name is David Kravitz. I’m a senior journalism major and this semester I’m writing stories for Hillel. I love to tell stories and write. I’m originally from Washington state. I enjoy cooking, writing, laughing with friends and enjoy dogs more than people.

CSU Hillel serves as an important bridge from the Jewish kid world to the Jewish adult world. We empower students to become leaders, and provide a warm and welcoming home-away-from-home for every student. Additionally, at CSU Hillel we take pride in cultivating a strong community with our weekly shabbats, sustainability projects and community mitzvahs around Fort Collins, as well as, helping our students learn about Judaism and Israel in whatever capacity most comfortable to them. To learn more about CSU Hillel visit our website and make sure to follow us on social media on Facebook at CSU Hillel and Twitter @CSUHillel.