Survivor to visit Naperville to explain 'enormity' of Holocaust

  • Holocaust survivor Marthe Cohn is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, during an event hosted by Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville to tell her story of surviving the war by going undercover and posing as a German nurse.

    Holocaust survivor Marthe Cohn is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, during an event hosted by Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville to tell her story of surviving the war by going undercover and posing as a German nurse. Courtesy of Chabad Naperville

  • Leaders of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie say it's vital to hear the stories of holocaust survivors because they remind of the humanity affected by the genocide in the early 1940s that killed about 6 million Jews and up to 5 million others in mass murders.

    Leaders of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie say it's vital to hear the stories of holocaust survivors because they remind of the humanity affected by the genocide in the early 1940s that killed about 6 million Jews and up to 5 million others in mass murders. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/24/2016 4:08 PM

A story of bravery, belief and disguise, spies and survival is compelling no matter the backdrop, no matter the era.

But set it during the Holocaust in World War II, featuring a French Jewish teen who poses as a German nurse to survive a genocide against her faith, and it becomes a tale even more worth hearing, say organizers of an event Sept. 19 in Naperville.

 

"Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany" is a book and a lecture by Holocaust survivor Marthe Cohn, who will speak at 7 p.m. at Embassy Suites in Naperville as part of the adult eduction series offered by Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville.

Cohn, 94, will tell of her days as an undercover Jew beginning in 1939 when the Nazis invaded France. At 19, Cohn used her light-haired Aryan appearance and fluency in German to pose as a German nurse searching for her fiance, all while spying and relaying information about troop locations to Allied commanders.

She took care of Nazi soldiers to stay in character and eventually gained information that helped the Allies break into German territory in 1945 and end the war.

"It's an opportunity to hear her story for everyone of all faiths," Rabbi Mendy Goldstein said. "She has a message of courage and faith, which is something we can all benefit from even today."

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Goldstein says it took courage, faith, stamina and a measure of good fortune for anyone to survive the Holocaust, in which Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler and its collaborators killed roughly 6 million Jews in concentration camps and ghettos and up to 5 million others in mass murders.

Shoshana Buchholz-Miller, vice president of education and exhibitions at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, said survivor stories such as Cohn's help people generations removed understand its devastation beyond the numbers.

"When hearing from a survivor, people really get a much more personal and deeper understanding of the experience of the Holocaust and of the history. Sometimes it's overwhelming for people to take in the enormity of it," Buchholz-Miller said. "Hearing one personal story makes people understand the horrors that they faced, the challenges that so many people who survived -- and who didn't survive -- had to endure."

Stories remind of the humanity affected by the massive loss of life from the late 1930s until 1945. And stories remind listeners to take action against the problems of their time, Buchholz-Miller said.

"When we see injustice today, it's important for us as individuals to speak out. We wish that more had during the war period," she said. "It's our responsibility in modern times."

Goldstein said adults and teenagers are encouraged to hear Cohn speak and have her autograph copies of her book. Tickets are $15 in advance at jewishnaperville.com or (630) 344-9770. Ticket prices rise to $20 at the door.

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