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July 8: I Shall Betray Tomorrow, Not Today

Lawrence Bush
July 7, 2016

jpeg_thumbnail_source-1443034568Marianne Cohn, a German-born Jew who was active in the French Resistance and helped to smuggle groups of Jewish children to Switzerland, was beaten to death by the Gestapo on this date in 1944. She was 22 years old. Jewish members of the Resistance had prepared a rescue plan for her, but she refused to participate for fear of reprisals against the twenty-eight children in her charge — who were ultimately rescued by Jean Daffaugt, the mayor of Annemasse, the town where they were arrested. Cohn’s family fled Germany in 1934 and settled in France in 1938. When the war began, her parents were interned at the Gurs concentration camp, while Marianne and her sister were taken in by the Jewish Scouts (the Scouts were dissolved by the Vichy government in 1941; many of its members joined the Resistance). Incarcerated for three months in Nice in 1942, she wrote a well-known poem called “I Shall Betray Tomorrow” (translator unknown) —

I shall betray tomorrow, not today.
Today, pull out my fingernails,
I shall not betray.
You do not know the limits of my courage,
I, I do.
You are five hands, harsh and full of rings,
Wearing hob-nailed boots.
I shall betray tomorrow, not today.

I need the night to make up my mind.
I need at least one night,
To disown, to abjure, to betray.
To disown my friends,
To abjure bread and wine,
To betray life,
To die.
I shall betray tomorrow, not today.

The file is under the window-pane.
The file is not for the window-bars,
The file is not for the executioner,
The file is for my own wrists.
Today, I have nothing to say.

When Gestapo officials interrogated her, she brazenly revealed her true identity and said that she had no regrets for her actions. . . . Yad Vashem named Jean Daffaugt, the mayor who intervened on behalf of the children, one of the Righteous Among the Nations and planted a memorial garden in memory of Marianne Cohn.”--United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.