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"WE ARE SCARCELY JAMES BOND
- Say Louise and Ida Cook, but their skill and courage in a top-secret rescue mission would put most cloak-and-dagger heroes to shame. They saved 29 souls from Hitler.
LIKE most well-bred
English ladies, the
Misses Louise and Ida
Cook are retiring by nature. They are sisters and in their early sixties.
Louise is a former civil
service typist; Ida is a writer of light, romantic
They live in a small, com- fortably shabby flat in Lon- don and make a serious hobby of listening to grand
Although their income is adequate, they are conserva- tive. They save slivers of soap, wear good tweeds chosen for their enduring style, permit themselves only the luxury of custom
It is hard to believe that a quarter of a century ago these two quiet English spinsters risked their lives in an extraordinary, imaginative and daring mission to save 29 doomed strangers from Hitler's Gestapo.
They represented no government, no secret agency -only themselves and, per- haps, the human race.
Ida Cook insists that their rescue mission would never
have started if they hadn't decided to go to the Salzburg
Music Festival in 1934.
"See here," she said em- phatically, "we're not
heroines. It was not a cloak and-dagger-type operation. We are scarcely James Bond
And Louise added, "Every- thing we did was legal. Per- fectly legal. Except-oh, well-if you count the smug- gling!"
Last year, when the two sisters were officially honored and decorated by the Israeli Government for their heroism, a spokesman ex- plained that "the reason it
has taken this long to recog- nise them is that they did their job so well no one realised how well they did
Recently, we talked to Louise and Ida Cook in their home in London, took tea with them at a West End hotel, and went with them to the theatre.
Louise is two years older than Ida and is more sub- dued. She is also taller and thinner.
Both look like "pure" Saxons, with the high, square cheekbones, fine white skin, and ruddy cheeks of the English country dweller.
Ida likes bright colors and
favors a red hat over her
carefully combed greying hair. Louise usually wears brown and grey clothes.
The impulse to be gener- ously decent undoubtedly is implanted in childhood, and so, perhaps, are the ele- ments of courage. The Cook
sisters remember their child-
hood and young girlhood as a period when life was so stable as to be almost time- less.
"There were four of us," Ida said. "Louise and myself and two younger brothers.
"Our parents were har- moniously married, and our lives were so serene we could
scarcely tell what day it
"I can't ever remember a mean word or a cruel act.
"My father was a Govern- ment tax official. He was un- mistakably the head of the family, but never tyrannical. My mother had a great imagination and humor.
"We were reared with kindness and without any pressure. No one ever urged us to get ahead or to make money or even to sustain the family pride. It wasn't neces- sary."
For several years the family lived in Barnes, on
the outskirts of London "It
was still quite couti' lied then," Ida recalled.
"There were green ddt
and woods to walk in, and in the early summet we bought home-grown aw berries very cheap. Hiey were half a crown for a quar- ter of a bushel.
"We ate them with hick
cream in huge soup bowls."
Like many English mn try homes, the house they lived in was said to be haunted.
A dastardly murd in
which the victim was
dumped down a well and the well filled up on top of him, had occurred, sup- posedly, in the early 18th
"I saw the ghost only once," Ida said.
"He always appeared on the stairs,. and one night when I was on my way to bed I saw moonlight glinting off silver buttons on a man's cutaway coat. I stopped at thc bottom of the stai<>- and considered scuttling back to the sitting-room and kitti my father to tuck mr in bed.
"But I calmed myself, straightened my back went on up the stairs pa ' the ghost or whatever it was,
flew into my bedroom, and
pulled the covers over my head."
Louise added, "But Mother felt she talked to the ghost often.
"Once she reported that she had stopped him on the stairs and said, 'Poor man, why do you hang about here so forlornly? I can under- stand that your spirit is still upset because you met such
a sudden and violent death, I but, after all, it happened two centuries ago-why don t you go to rest?'
"And Mother said the ghost whispered to her, 'You
don't understand. You've got
. Louise ana fda Cook, the gentlewomen whose love of music led to dangerous adventures.
I itali wrong. I'm not the^vic
: tim-I i the murderer'."
I Other than the ghost that I came w;h the house, there i was lit excitement in the
I Cooks' family life. The I parents id not entertain and I seldom . epted invitations.
"So saw no one but I ourselves ' Ida said.
I 'Wi cd at hide-and ? seek and hare and hounds.
I We rear4 to each other. It
never o írred to us that j we were li nely.
"Then were all the small I animals in the woods-rab
bits and Imice. We never
I knew th»- jolly companion I ship with our parents that I many children today have.
"Motht and Father were both far o reserved to kiss
"We d; nave many books I and some toys-the kind of
conventioi stuffed animals
I that English children are
"It was rather a Christo
j pher Roh ' -type childhood, I modest anr! independent but I very secure."
i Their father was fond of I delivering lectures on moral
tahaviour at teatime.
The sisters remember that I one afternoon he told a story
about a man in the com , munity H ho had beer
liberally rewarded for re turning a lost horse.
The owner had given hin a Pound and the happi recipient had got drunk fo: a week and landed in jai .
" 'Served him right,' wa rather's opinion," Ida re «lied. He warned us tha ' " 15 wrr>ng to accept any re
ward for doing a kindness.
We children never dis Pujed Father, but later w «ked Mother what we woul do if wc over found a dja mond necklace.
I "She replied most sari: I lac,only that in her opin o I anyone who was so carele Ia» to lose a diamond neel
lace ought to pay something to get it back."
Louise said wistfully, "For weeks we looked in haystacks and ditches, in watering troughs and mulch heaps, for stray diamond necklaces - but we never found one."
The children went to
school and began academic classes at the age of six. Although they are today de- vout Church of England members, they disliked Bible study in class.
"I thought the story of
Adam and Eve was miser- able," Louise said. "I couldn't believe that God had written it - it seemed
"I hated the picture of an angel with a sword forcing poor Adam and Eve out of the garden.
"They were all naked. I kept thinking how chilly they must have been."
When World War I began, the family moved to Aln- wick, a country town in Northumberland, near the Scottish border.
There the girls completed their secondary-school edu- cation, and when the war ended and the family re- turned to London, both were ready to go to work.
They took the civil
was top of her year in Latin -and went to work as copy- ing typists.
Their salary was two pounds six shillings per week, and they were con- sidered very lucky.
"lt was about that time," Ida recalls, "that we dis-
"We hadn't had the con- ventional exposure to piano lessons as children and had no opportunity to go to con-
"But Louise went one day to a lecture sponsored by the
Board of Education. The
speaker used a gramophone to illustrate his points."
Louise came home in an excited daze and said, "We must buy a gramophone!"
The next day, the two sis- ters put down a deposit on a hand-cranked model that sold for £23 and bought ten records at 7/6 each, includ- ing Bach's "Air for G String," "Un Bel Di Ved remo," with Galli-Curci, and "Oh, Sleep! Why Dost Thou Leave Me," with Alma Gluck.
"A generation that has grown up with radio will
find it hard to believe that
we'd never really heard music," Louise said.
"We listened to those records during all our spare time, and at the end of the month our tastes and our
lives were changed.
"We saved up enough money to go to a Covent Garden opera. Soon we were spending all the money we could squeeze from living expenses for opera and con-
"In October of 1924, we heard Galli-Curci. Oh, happy day. She was singing in
concert at the Albert Hall.
"We were told that she
sang opera only in New
"We wrote Galli-Curci a fan letter - we were still
only silly young girls - and
we told her we admired her.
"While we were writing the letter, we suddenly de-
cided we would save our money and go to New York to hear her sing opera. So we told her about this pro- ject, too.
"Stars in those days had
time to answer letters.
"Galli-Curci wrote back a charming note. We have it still among our dearest
"It read, 'If you ever suc- ceed in coming to America you shall have two tickets
for everything I sing. Mean- while, come and see me on Sunday night to say good- bye.' "
Ida and Louise, dressed in black skirts, frilled white shirtwaists, and little hats, paid a demure call on the vigorous and handsome Italian soprano.
She repeated her gay in-
vitation to meet her in New York.
The sisters embarked on a rigorous savings plan. Ida gave up sweets. Louise found that a penny bun without fruit was just as filling as a penny-ha'penny one with
They never took a bus if they could possibly walk, but wondered if that were a real economy, when their shoes required mending more fre- quently.
"When we told our parents what we were doing," Ida remembered, "Mother said, 'Well, it's your money,' but Father said, 'I do think that is a very odd way to spend
Although neither sister was a skilled needlewoman, they
made their own travel ward-
robes, using patterns from a magazine called "Mabs Fash- ions," for the London work- ing girl.
They sailed third class on the Berengaria in the autumn
Disembarking in New York on a West Side pier, they asked a taxi driver to recommend a cheap, respect- able hotel. He took them to a family hotel on Washing- ton Square.
Then they consulted a map and walked more than thirty blocks uptown to Thirty-Ninth Street, arriving at the Metropolitan Opera House just in time for the evening performance of
Ida said, "I think Madame Calli-Curci must have been rather astonished to see her
By Jhan and June Robbins
shy little stage-door ad- min rs actually surface in New York City, but she re- covered admirably, gave us some tickets, and insisted on writing a letter to Mother telling her that we were all right,"
Mme Galli-Curci was so
intrigued by the girls' devo- tion to opera that she invited them to her apartment and kept a motherly eye on them during their stay.
They went home a few weeks later, after having heard approximately 100 hours of opera and agreeing that they couldn't wait to
"You understand we weren't frustrated music- ians," Louise said.
"Neither of us could sing a note, but we were becom- ing rather expert and ap- preciative listeners.
"When we got back to the civil-service office that we worked in, we converted three or four other girls, and we spent a few seasons going to Covent Garden together. It was such good fun."
It was about this time, the Cook sisters said, that well meaning friends began to nag them about getting married.
"They are still nagging," Ida said with a twinkle.
"We met nice young men, but the fact is. Mr. Right just never came along. Not for either one of us.
"After World War I there were simply not enough men to go around in England, and many women of our genera- tion made the choice of dig- nified spinsterhood rather than marry someone uncon- genial.
"Perhaps Louise and I felt a bit regretful, but I don't
remember that we suffered."
The following year the sisters made another trip to
the U.S. to hear Lawrence Tibbett, Ezio Pinza, Rosa Ponselle, and made friends with all three.
When they returned, Ida left her job in the civil ser
vice and became an assistant
fiction editor for a magazine
"They ran short stories and serial fiction," she said.
'My job was to do the lay- out-arrange the size of the illustrations and copy.
"At times it got frightfully dull. I decided to try to write light fiction. To my vast sur- prise it began to sell."
A few years later, in 1934, the Viennese conductor Clemens Krauss came to Covent Garden to conduct the operas "Arabella" and
Ida and Louise, still stage
door fans, snapped a photo- graph of him as he left the building.
Ida said, "We were just using a little box camera and knew nothing about photog- raphy.
"But the picture turned out to be marvellously flat- tering and dramatic-so much so that we had a copy made and brought it to his wife, Viorica Ursuleac, a Rumanian soprano.
"She was very pleased. She said, 'But, of course, you are going to Salzburg this sum-
"We had no idea of doing
so. We couldn't afford it. But
I was so muddled I replied, 'Yes, indeed, we are going to Salzburg-wouldn't dream of missing it!'
"Suddenly it seemed like a great idea. Louise and I had visions of ourselves sit- ting on a green hillside in the foothills of the Austrian
Tyrol listening to great music and perhaps hobnobbing
with Clemens Krauss.
"Late in July, Chancellor Dollfuss, of Austria, was assassinated. But we didn't
take it seriously. No one
"All we worried about was whether it would stop our music holiday.
"They closed the Austrian border for a few days, then opened it again, and off we
At Salzburg, they were de- lighted to be introduced as "Galli-Curci's English girls."
Viorica Ursuleac intro- duced them to a white-haired woman, Mme Mita Mayer Lismann, from Frankfurt, who was the official lecturer for the Salzburg festival that
"I'm afraid we had silly prejudices," Louise told us. "Somehow we felt people with double-barrelled names
could not possibly be very good."
Clemens Krauss explained that Mme Mayer-Lismann was going to England, where she was scheduled to give
He took Louise and Ida
by the hand and said seri- ously, "I want you to take care of her. Look after Mita. Promise me that you will."
The two sisters promptly agreed. They thought he was asking them to see that she was invited to tea and taken around to the Tower of Lon- don and other sightseers' places.
In Salzburg, many people spoke of the body of legis-
lation that was under
preparation in Nazi Germany and designed to deprive Jewish citizens of their civil rights.
Clemens Krauss was among those who realised that serious trouble was com- ing, and he began to try to persuade his Jewish friends in the musical world to mi- grate, while there was still time, to Switzerland, Eng-
land, or America.
Few people paid any
attention to him. Those who listened said, "Krauss, don't worry so much. We Jews are
"SCARCELY JAMES BOND LADIES"
CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS PAGE
used to threats of pogroms.
It will all blow over."
"In England," Ida said, "there was even less concep- tion of what these laws could
mean-that people could be rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps.
"When Madame Mayer
Lismann came to London we asked her what she wanted to see, and she said she was interested in architecture, so we took her to Westminster Abbey.
"She asked, 'Is this a
Catholic or Protestant church?' Then we went to St. Paul's, and she asked the same question.
"I thought it a bit curious, so I asked, 'What is your religion?' She looked sur- prised and replied, 'I'm Jewish. I thought Clemens told you all about me!'
"If Clemens Krauss
thought we were sophisti- cated enough to get his message to 'take care of Mita,' he must have been very disappointed.
"We weren't alert to the
Nazi-Jewish problem, because the whole world was asleep even the few English Jews who were our acquaintances.
"We simply never thought of Jews being any different from anyone else. A few weeks later Madame Mayer Lismann went back to Ger- many."
Late in 1935, Ida published a light, romantic novel, "Wife of Christopher."
She used a pen-name Mary Burchell-her mother's
first name and the name of her father's mother.
To her astonishment, the novel sold well and pub- lishers asked for as many more like it as she could produce.
Ida recalled, "I left my position in Fleet Street and stayed home to write. It was
"I was under no illusion that I was writing great literature, but I didn't feel like a cynical hack, either.
"They were clean, lively stories dealing with the kind of people I had known all my life.
"There was one book about a girl whose fiance jilted her; another about a girl
who fell in love with a man
who was trying to run her father out of business; still another about a girl who got her start in opera.
"None of the heroines was Louise or myself. But they might have been. They were
real to me.
"I began to make what seemed like a large amount of money-as much as a thousand pounds per year
and since neither Louise nor I had much use for it we just put it in the bank.
"I kept thinking, a little uneasily, What's it for? Why has this been given to us?"
We were talking to the sis- ters in the sitting-room of their flat. Both of them had
chatted eagerly while speak- ing of their childhood and their early adventures among the opera stars, but now they were suddenly silent.
Ida got up from the flower-printed sofa and went to the window, looking down sombrely at the small green courtyard below.
Louise patted the white
china teapot. When they began to speak again it was more slowly.
Ida remembers hearing people say that what Hitler was doing to the Jews-on the legal surface it was only a separation of the Jewish culture from the German nation-was a sensible idea.
She heard people argue that Jews were always Jews
first and national citizens second.
"Minority groups have no national perspective," she re- calls someone saying. "They work for their own interests and take no responsibility for the country.
"Their religion and their culture tell them they are an independent entity-so let
"We didn't know enough about it to argue," Ida told us. "But the truth began to break through to us when we went to Frankfurt to visit Madame Mayer-Lismann in
"At a party or a concert, someone would say, 'Where is Herr So-and-So?'
"A strained silence would fall. Then someone else would say quietly, 'They took him away.'
"So when we returned to
England we knew that decent people-even artists and in- tellectuals-were being mis-
"When the British Jewish Refugee Committee appealed for funds we began to con- tribute money.
"And since we are not the kind of people who just write cheques and forget about it
we discovered that the lives of men, women, and chil- dren were literally hanging on their ability to get out of Germany.
"We decided to help. And
that's how it all started."
What quickly developed was a desperate race against time to save musicians, artists, writers, and intel- lectuals whom the Gestapo had particularly marked for early death.
The sisters were scarcely surprised to find that Clemens Krauss, now direc- tor of the Munich Opera House, was aiding the anti Nazi underground.
He told them that hun- dreds of men and women were in immediate danger.
"Get out as many as you can," he begged them. "Get them to England if you can, but get them out!"
Ida said, "In England, we don't realise the political im- portance of musicians, poets, and artists. We look at them as strange fellows who wear berets and behave rather interestingly, but we don't take them very seriously.
"The idea that a poem could make a dent in a regime or a symphony rally
a revolution sounds absurd.
"But all tyrannical gov- ernments always move first against the artists. They
know tha' ene Francois Vil- lon, one Sibelius, one Yevtu- shenko is more dangerous than thousands of armed
"When you kill the artists, you kill protest. And Hitler
Getting refugees out of Germany and Austria was an
agonising exercise in ultim-
"No country would admit migrants without any money," Louise said.
"Germany wouldn't let them take any money with them - there was a limit
of about a pound. Most of them had very little time to make up their minds.
"After the Anschluss - the seizure of Austria - in 1938, the order went out that every male Jew between the ages of 18 and 60 was
. Evo Pinza
to be rounded up and sent to a concentration camp.
"Several weeks' notice was
supposed to be given, but in
some cases men were taken away in 15 minutes.
"The only way to avoid it was to sign a form guar- anteeing that you would get out of the country in eight
"Many signed but had little hope that they could
"To get into England, you needed, if you were a man, to guarantee that you would not become a public charge and to submit documentary proof that you intended eventually to go to another
"A child without its
parents could be brought over if an English family would legally adopt it until
it was 18.
"A woman could come on
a domestic permit, provided she gave evidence there was a job waiting for her."
By the winter of 1938, the Cook sisters were fully com- mitted to help. Louise took a crash course in German and learned to speak the lan- guage competently in a series of 25 lessons.
"I knew better than to try," sighed Ida. "Louise, dear, you've always had the
Louise lined up their task and organised it with the cool aplomb of a general.
"Now, then," she said briskly, "there are five things
we must do. Locate the refu- gees. Screen out those who are in most desperate situa- tions. Decide which of these have the best chances of being rescued. Find English sponsors for them. Smuggle out their belongings so that they can have waiting for them in England enough valuables to convince the British Government they are
"It's very simple, really," said Louise, "but, Ida, we must organise and co-ordin-
"Yes, certainly," Ida agreed.
"Well, here's how we'll manage," Louise sai ant! began to write.
Posing as rattle; ainerj opera buffs, they si uttled from London to Coli .ne by air on Friday evenir s and returned on the ( lannel night boat from Hoi ,nd in time for Louise to ¡ret to work on Monday mo. rung.
"Anyone who has ti veiled knows that air peopi don't talk to boat people,' Louise said. "We hoped the fre quency of our visit- would be less noticeable."
When questions were asked, Clemens Krauss pro-
vided an alibi.
"He scheduled h. music to suit our conveniez ," Ida remembered.
"He even loosen d the strain by letting us choose our own opera - just imagine!
"If we sent hi; word through the Refugi Com- mittee that we nc ed an excuse to come to Frank- furt or Munich on a certain weekend, we inch led an operatic title in the essage
and that's what h would perform.
"We sat in the dience feeling rather guilt , tt hav- ing such an enjoya¡ . even- ing and nervously v ídering
whether the man b . ind us
was a Gestapo agent.
"On the way ba- across
the border we woulf chatter
loudly. 'Well, Kr ss was I magnificent, as usu. Let's
come back next M :k and I
hear "Tosca"!' "
"We built ourselves a I reputation," Lou: said. "The men in Cus; is used to chuckle, 'Here co ne those two verrukt (crazy English ladies. They are ly poor office workers a i they
spend all their money to j come here to liste to Ger- g man opera.'
"We came into he Col- I ogne airport each Friday evening with practically empty suitcases, shivering in
our tweed suits.
"And we went across the Dutch border on Sunday
wearing furs, sparkling with jewellery, and scarcely able to drag our bags.
"We were smugt':ng out people's lives.
"A great many ; ? sty re- marks have been made about
so-called rich Jew s who fled the Nazis and took (heir mil-
lions with them.
"It is so absurd
"There may have been a
few who were shrewd I enough in the early 1930s
to salt some escape money
away in Swiss banks. But th* vast number just had to sell everything they owned and convert it into assets that
could be smuggled. Furs and I jewels. That was about it
Many a middleclass Ger- I man Jewish housewife who d I never owned so much as a jj
coat with a fur collar sud- I denly found herself in po* I
session of a necklace or ring
that represented the family s
Ida recalled, "We had to refuse most of the earrings,
as they were nearly all de- signed for pierced ears.
"We had never had our ears pierced.
"When we started smug- I
gling, we discussed the idea, I
but we were advised that the ? puncture marks would M I
I xfr\ conspicuous for a long
I "It was the kind of small
I detail on which we could ' ver\ isily have been tripped
I Vhc sisters pleaded with
(Vtrj ne they knew in Lon I don to help them collect I furriers' labels.
"Am of the furriers would
I have civen us labels, but I lotting looks newer than a I new label in an old coat," I Louise explained.
"So we went around
j Londo appealing to well I dressed women to rip labels I out of their coats.
"On. e they caught on, it I was quite a fad.
"We used to go direct I from the airport or train I station to the home of the I prospective refugee.
J "There we would rip off I the Gei man labels, sew in I the London ones, pin on the I jewellery, stuff our suitcases, I and go on to the hotel.
"Clemens Krauss told us
j that .. good underground J trick to .ivoid suspicion was I to stay at a hotel frequented I by the Storm. Troopers' I officers.
"In Berlin, we stayed at j the Adlon, calmly walking I past Hen Goering in the I lobby, our bosoms quivering I with smuggled jewels.
"It didn't shake us, but the
I refugees who wanted to get
in touch with us were a bit I nervous.''
As weekend followed I weekend and Clemens I Krauss saw to it that the I opera season was prolonged, I the Cook sisters calmly I transponed valuables from I Frankfurt. Munich, and I Berlin ! bank vaults in I London, where they re I mained until the owners .* claimed them.
Ida said "In 1939, we got I in a little deeper.
"Time was getting short I then. Everyone expected I general war in Europe to j break oui before the end of
j the year and that England I would be in it. Then, of I course, the borders would be I closed and we could no I longer pla, our role as opera
"Both of us nearly forgot I about earning a living. Oh, I blessed light romance that I kept the money rolling in.
"We spent our time during I the week pounding on doors I m London, begging for I guarantors for these des I perate people.
I "It was hard work.
« "Lots of English thought
I that the Government ought I J0 admit refugees and per I haps build camps for them, I but when it came to person-
ally guaranteeing their wel . 'are it was another story. We
made endless telephone calls
Once, Ida got a soapbox and headed for Hyde Park horner, the free-speech area
She said, "I was talking 10 a crowd of about fifty Penons when I felt some- one Jog my elbow.
I looked down and saw a
W úrTtd y°un8 man ' lad no way of knowing wh*ther he was with me or a8a>nst me.
"j shook him off, but he «pt tugging at my sleeve.
tJT asked Permission to S',and 1 said Jm Pallently. 'No, no, that's not
allowed-get your own
"He jumped up on the box when I stepped down, however, and he said, 'I just want you to know that I have just escaped from Ger- many, and everything this lady says is true. They are getting ready to slaughter the entire Jewish community. Please! You must help others
to come here!' "
The Cook sisters soon were conscious that they had a following in Europe.
Letters addressed merely
to "Ida and Louise" were
received at the British Jewish Refugee Headquarters.
A German in Frankfurt who was a Roman Catholic
put an apartment at their disposal for the purpose of interviewing refugees.
(The room was later used by a Roman Catholic priest who had been smuggled into the house. It was set up as a chapel, and the priest ad-
ministered last rites to Catholics who were headed for concentration camps. In 1943, when Frankfurt was all but flattened by Allied bombers, the apartment house was one of the few buildings that was not des- troyed.)
As many as 15 men or women crowded into the
little apartment on Saturday and Sunday mornings and anxiously presented their qualifications to the Cook
Said Ida, "It was a grind- ing experience.
"Suddenly we found we had the power of life and death in our hands. And we had to figure out in pretty short order which ones could probably be saved if we worked hard and moved fast and which Jews hadn't
. Lawrence Tibbett
"When chances were
equal, we took the young. But we tried to keep families together.
"You understand," she insisted, "that we weren't playing God. It was more like gambling at Monte
"I still shudder when I think about it.
"The Jew who had a prac- tical skill - an electrician or an engineer - sometimes
made it ahead of the intel- lectual.
"The one who had con- verted all his material assets into diamonds or what-have
you and was able to demon- strate to his English guar-
antor that he would not be-
come dependent on him had
it over the man and his wife who were still clinging -as though furniture were a
part of life itself-to their bedsteads and family por-
"And everything had to be done in such a hurry-such a terrible hurry. There was no time to think or to argue.
"We prayed a lot. If you can pray on the run. I think you have to listen quietly to an answer to prayer. But there was just no time."
"Sometimes," Louise re- membered, "we would get a case worked through and cable the visas and entry per- mits, only to find that, a few hours before, the Storm Troopers had knocked on the door. The candidate had disappeared."
In such cases, sometimes a good strong bluff worked.
Ida told us about one such time: "A man had been im- prisoned in a small country town, and his mother was beside herself, thinking he would be transferred to a
concentration camp before we could do anything for
"I promptly typed out a very pompous letter stating
that one of London's most
prominent citizens was giving the guarantee in this case and that if the man didn't
show up in London it would be brought up in the House
"I took the letter to a well-known London solicitor
and persuaded him to put a big blob of sealing wax on it and to sign his name in
bold black ink.
"The seal said, 'Supreme Court of Adjudicature of Great Britain.' It looked very impressive.
"We took the document
straight to the German keeper of the small-town jail. He was so over- whelmed he turned his
prisoner loose in ten minutes.
"They probably shot the poor man for it."
Ida said, "We were warned that if we got in- volved in trying to rescue anti-Nazis or Communists, we would probably be arrested as spies and shot.
"I remembered the stories I had heard in my child- hood about Nurse Edith Cavell, and I was quite frightened. I wondered how Louise and I would stand
up to that kind of thing.
"We talked it over with Mother. She said thgt per- haps she'd had a share in this through bringing us up to do a bit of kindness.
"She could understand that we'd be apprehensive we'd be foolish if we weren't.
"But she said she was a little psychic, as we knew, and she felt we'd be all right.
"Louise and I couldn't im-
agine any of our musical friends being Communists, but we certainly knew many must be in the underground.
"We decided that the most
sensible thing to do was simply not to ask. If we were ignorant, our nerves couldn't betray us."
There were some disturb- ing moments.
Once, as they boarded a train for Holland, two uni- formed jackbooted S.S. men fell in behind them, entered the same railway car, and sat menacingly in their com- partment during the entire journey.
"We didn't dare to speak to each other, for we had no
way of knowing whether they understood English or not,"
"We both opened books and began to read.
"Soon I discovered that I could communicate with
Louise by holding my finger under words on the page of my book. It was a slow busi- ness, but I managed to point out, 'Calm - in - trouble breathe - deeply.'
"Louise began to giggle. I thought, good grief, is she becoming hysterical?
"Then Louise opened her purse, brought out a small package of chocolates, un- wrapped it carefully, and held it out cheerfully to the
"You never saw two more
disarmed villains in your life. I mean, one simply doesn't
offer chocolates to Storm
"Talk about your secret weapons!
"When we got off the train, they went off in an-
other direction and didn't even bother to see that we crossed the border.
"At other times," she con- tinued, "it was necessary to meet rudeness with arro- gance.
"If we had crumpled, we'd have been in difficulties.
"I'd so like to meet - if he is still alive-the 'incred- ibly insolent Customs inspec- tor who got on the train at
"His eye was caught by the rosy lustre of an oriental pearl necklace, which was being worn with purposeful carelessness on a cheap jer-
"I think he suspected the necklace was being smuggled out, and he was visibly gathering his nerve to make
"It was obvious that the only protective resource was the famous British ability to stare down strangers.
" 'That is a very beautiful necklace you are wearing, Fraulein,' he said.
"He got a cold shower of English hauteur and a lofty, 'Why not, Herr Inspector? Do I look as though I were
accustomed to imitations?'
" 'Certainly not,' he said hastily. T only meant to ask whether you bought it in Germany.'
" 'Scarcely,' was the con- temptuous reply. He was about to leave the compart- ment whe he was called back. 'Mein Herr!'
" 'Your servant, Frau- lein.'
" 'You seem to be implying that there is something wrong with my appearance. What is wrong with me?'
" 'Nothing, nothing at all.' " 'But there must be!'
" 'Nein, nein, no offence, Fraulein.'
" 'What is the name of your superior? Does he know that you feel free to insult single ladies?'
'Nein, nein, nein.'
"And that was that - the
poor man scampered up the aisle as though the Grena-
diers were at his heels."
Jacques Heliczer, the noted sculptor, was within a few
hours of arrest when he was
"SCARCELY JAMES BOND LADIES"
CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS PAGE
interviewed in Vienna by the
He is now a resident of New York City, and we
talked to him there. He is
a short, wiry man in his
He has a high, broad, bony forehead, silver-grey hair that is beating an orderly re-
treat toward his crown. The
upper part of his intense, emotional face is nearly obscured by enormous horn- rimmed glasses.
"When I first met the Cooks, I was afraid they were Nazi spies," he told us.
"There were a lot of spies around in those days.
"But I knew the order had
already been signed for my arrest and the Gestapo was just waiting until they weie ready for another round-up.
It's inefficient to arrest
people one by one, you
"You have to take chances
to survive, however, and I
decided that I had to trust
the Cook girls.
"I told them everything - that most of my family were already in concentration camps, that I had been jailed for three weeks for making
critical remarks about Naz- ism.
"But they weren't inter-
ested in a confession - that
wasn't their purpose. They wanted to uncover every scrap of information they
could use to save me.
"I told them all the de-
tails of my career. I'd won lots of prizes, including first prize in drawings at the World's Fair in Paris in 1937
and another first prize at a big exhibition in the Mannes Gallery in Prague.
" 'What was it?' Miss Ida wanted to know. They were always interested in the arts. I told them it was a bas
relief of Tomas Masaryk.
"Miss Louise exclaimed, 'The president of Czecho- slovakia? Why can't he help you?'
"I explained that he was dead. 'But he's got a family. Here, let me try!'
"Within minutes, this won- derful lady, who was too naive and good-hearted to dismiss the faintest chance, had Jan Masaryk himself on the telephone.
Who was Alice?
"To my astonishment, Masaryk said he would get
me a visa within 24 hours.
"And he did. I went to England and then to the
"Skilled interviewing and leaving no stone unturned - that's what enabled the
Cook sisters to save so many.
"They are wonderful ladies. May God always
In March of 1939 the Cook sisters received a mes- sage from a friend of Clemens Krauss in Berlin. It said, "Get Alice out - they are going to take her
Louise recalled, "We hadn't the faintest idea who Alice might be.
"We had no way of check- ing back. We puzzled about it. Clearly, the writer had expected us to recognise the
"What kind of woman is so well known by a single name? Someone in the arts, we agreed. An actress like
Marlene? A ballet dancer
like Jeanmaire? No one
seemed to know.
"Then it occurred to us
that it might be a designer,
"We began to ask our few
well-dressed friends - the ones who had lent us the labels for the fur coats - and a woman said, 'But Alice, of course! She is the best-known milliner in Ber- lin.
" 'She makes hats for Frau
Ribbentrop and Frau Goeb- bels. But she is not Jewish. I should have thought she was
"We wondered briefly if we were being booby trapped. There was always that possibility.
"There were at least 50 others begging tis for help.
"But we went to Berlin to interview Alice. If the situation hadn't been so
tragic, it might have been good fun.
. Clemens Krauss
"Ida and I had never been to an elegant fashion salon before. There were crystal
chandeliers and mirrors and swatches of velvet and clouds of veiling and wisps of expensive perfume.
"It was hard to believe that just outside the door was unspeakable cruelty."
Alice told them that some months before, her customer Frau Ribbentrop, the wife of the Minister, of Foreign Affairs, had advised her to divorce her husband, who was Jewish. Alice refused.
Her husband had escaped across the Dutch border. She tried to follow, but was caught and brought back.
She said she would be in prison if it weren't for Frau Ribbentrop, but she desper- ately wanted to go to Eng- land, in the hope that she could rejoin her husband.
"You have no idea how little interest there was in sponsoring an 'Aryan' Ger- man milliner," Ida said.
"There were just no
"Then we went, somewhat reluctantly, to a very formal social tea at the home of a friend. We appealed for help for Alice and a man and his
wife agreed to guarantee her.
"Alice got to England and
started a modest new career.
"Needless to say, we have a closetful of heavenly hats we seldom wear. But Alice never saw her husband again.
"Apparently, the Nazis got him in Holland eventually."
One of the last escapes the sisters handled was that of Jerzy Maliniak, assistant con- ductor of the Viennese State
Opera and a close friend of
"Maliniak was fired from
his job because he was Jewish, and he couldn't get another job for the same
"He and Gerda, his non Jewish wife, and their little daughter were just quietly starving to death.
"Maliniak was Polish by birth, but they wouldn't let
him cross the border.
"Krauss said, 'They have made up their minds to kill him. I doubt if you can help
him. All he wants now is to
save his wife and little girl.'
"We found a lovely musi- cal family in England, who adopted the child. But we were determined not to stop
"We appealed wildly for sponsors for Jerzy and Gerda. We managed to get a shaky, but I think well - meant, guarantee. It was unsuccess-
"Louise and I didn't know where to turn.
"Then our brother Bill
who was usually very silent, unless he thought he had something worth saying suddenly looked up and said, 'You can take my post office savings book if you like and a statement. I'm a permanent ci"il servant. See if they will accept a guarantee for the two of them from me'."
On that same day, how- ever, the sisters received a cable: "Jerzy not home. Helpless. Gerda." They knew they were too late. It was July, 1939.
Ida says, "For the first time we broke down. We just cried from sorrow, frustra- tion, wild anger-and, prob- ably, all those months of strain and fatigue.
"We are not the kind who weep easily-we are stiff upper-lip type of people.
"I told the British Home Office, 'Go ahead with the visas, anyway. We'll get them
out somehow!' "
Gerda had walked with her husband to the Munich police station, kissed him goodbye, and watched him
As she was returning to her apartment a neighbor warned her that the Gestapo was waiting foi her there.
For two days Gerda lived on her feet, walking up one street and slipping down an adjacent alley, afraid to stay in any one place.
She went to the British Consulate, but the clerks were not aware that the visas for her and her husband were on the cross-Channel cable.
They let her rest for a few hours, and then they opened
the back door and asked her to leave.
She went to the Polish Consulate and proved to an official's satisfaction that she
was technically Polish by marriage. The official said, "Well, we can send you to Warsaw." She reluctantly agreed to go.
Still fearing immediate arrest, she walked for another twenty-hour hours until the train departed. She didn't
CONTINUED ON PAGE 68
"SCARCELY JAMES BOND LADIES"
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 44
dare return to her apartment to pack a suitcase.
She boarded the train, showed her ticket-bought with money she had bor-
rowed from friends.
"She was so tired she was
beyond commonsense," Ida said. "She expected the Ges- tapo to take her off the train
at every stop.
"A kindly, grey-haired conductor asked what ailed her, and she poured out the whole story.
"He said, 'Give me your papers and I'll take care of everything.' He gave her an
"She fell asleep, expecting him to betray her but feel- ing there was no further point in fighting to stay alive. When she awoke she was in Poland.
"In Warsaw she located her husband's relatives.
"Meanwhile, Louise and I were trying to find out what had happened. We were determined not to give up.
"Somehow, Jerzy managed to escape from the concen- tration camp. He joined his wife in Warsaw, the British visas were still valid, and in a short while they were in
Talk of war
"The family that had adopted their daughter re- luctantly returned her to her parents.
"Summer was running out, and so was political patience
"There was a lot of war talk. Louise became ill, and I went to Germany all by myself.
"I was warned that if war broke out while I was there I would be interned for the duration.
"I remember taking a good, hard look at my dark blue British passport and thinking it was rather pre-
"I went to see a Mrs. Bauer and her daughter Ilse. They were supposed to come to England as .domestic
"At the last moment Mrs. Bauer was refused entry
because of a rheumatic knee.
You can't be a very good floor-scrubber if you have a
"I persuaded a doctor to sign a paper saying the rheu- matism had been cured, and the Bauers were on their
"During one of those last visits," Louise said, "we boarded a train in Berlin
and saw people herded along the lower end of the plat-
"It was a cold, rainy day, and many were in dresses or shirtsleeves, carrying bundles on their shoulders.
"Always the bundles! And the strangest things inside
"You'd think they would have a survival kit-things like honey, dried meat, aspirin, matches.
"But no, the bundles con- tained sentimental memoirs photo albums, favorite books, lace scarves.
"I asked the trainmaster in a loud voice, 'What on earth is going on down
"He shrugged and said, 'Only Jews'."
Ida told us about the last case they handled.
"I believe it was the most
painful and suspenseful case we had," she said
"We don't know how he got our address, but a teen- age boy wrote to us from a prison camp near the Polish
"It was on the site of a former racecourse, and 12ft. by 12ft. stalls that had once held one horse now held eight people. The) were waiting for transhipment to a permanent concentration
"The letter-which was in stilted student English-was
"The boy wrote that he realised he had no more claim to help than millions of others and that he didn't expect we would be able to help him, inasmuch as he had already been arrested.
" 'I Jewish of both Polish and German nations,' he
" 'My parents were taken away since six months. I have 16 years of age. I look not so much for help as for hope. I have migration quota for United States of America, but it will not be ripe for three years. It is hard to keep alive here without encourage- ment. Your sustaining is appreciated. I try to get this
"Three years!" Ida said to Louise when they read the letter. "What a long time! Still, he is young. What can
Several days later Ida was asked to speak to a church organisation. She threw her planned speech aside and pleaded desperately for guarantors for the German Polish boy.
At the end of her lecture, a man rose to his feet and said, "We have been con- sidering the adoption of a refugee child.
"This one is somewhat older than we had in mind, but we would like to have him. We shall all share the cost."
All the church members present at the meeting stood up to signify their assent. And the sisters went quickly to start the proceedings, even though all the needed docu- ments were missing.
"The girl clerk who usually processed these cases was by now a good friend,"
"She hurried through the application forms as quickly
as she could scribble.
"Then she raised her pen and said, 'Oh, how terrible. We have just had an order stating we cannot accept any- one with a U.S. quota higher than 16,000. This boy's quota number is 16,522.'
"I got a good grip on the counter, and I said to this perfectly charming young girl, in what I am afraid was a terrible voice, 'My dear, I just am not going to write this boy and tell him to stop hoping.
" 'You must think of
something. I know you can!'
"She was just a young girl. She looked at me help- lessly, and her eyes began to
fill with tears.
"I snapped, 'Enough of that. You aren't in a concen
tracion camp! Look in your silly rule book, and find us a way out!'
"I shall always be thank- ful to that wonderful girl, for a few minutes later she said, 'Miss Cook, I've got it! I'll write you a predated let- ter- say a week ago - ask- ing for these missing papers.
" 'That will start this case file several days before the new rule. He'll be eligible.' "
On such bureaucratic de- tails did people's lives hang in late summer of 1939.
Having got the boy's British visa, they couldn't get him transportation. Every airline, train, bus was over-
There was only one practi- cal hope - a ship sailing from Danzig that was limited
to children under twelve but
had a few spaces for adoles-
The sisters telephoned the owner of the shipping line. He told them that any vacan- cies would have to be filled
on a first-come, first-served
They cabled the boy.
"We got the passenger list, and his pame wasn't on it, but still we hoped he might
have come aboard at the last minute," Ida recalled.
"On the day the boat was due, we went down to the docks to await it - the last children's transport from Poland.
"There were 200 little ones
on that boat, and many of their parents had already
The sisters had seen only a passport picture of the boy. They stood tensely beside the gangplank and scanned each
"We stood there for what seemed like hours. Then, suddenly, there he was!" Louise said.
"He came across the dock with a big, lanky stride, like an American cowboy. He had blond curly hair and grey eyes. He wasn't carry- ing so much as a knotted handkerchief. And he was smiling!"
The shooting war that broke out a few weeks later
was accepted calmly by the
Cook sisters. Both of them
worked with the refuge com-
"Mum and Dad took it all pretty stoutly except at the -beginning," Louise told
"We got a call one day from Mum, who asked us to come home, and reason with Dad. Of course we hurried down to see what the trouble
"We found Mum looking
as out of sorts as we'd ever
seen and Dad marching angrily up and down the garden path.
" 'Your dad has volun- teered as a stretcher-bearer!' Mum said. 'I think his mind is slipping a bit. He's 75!'
" 'I'm as hale and spry as a lot of younger ones,' says
" 'Mark my words, if you try it, you're more likely to
be on the stretcher than at one end of it!' warns Mum.
" 'Well, perhaps you're right,' Dad says.
"Then, the next day, Dad walks into the village and
comes back in an ai raid warden's uniform! He ed in it, too, throughot the
"I don't care for ; this modern emphasis on iden motives," Ida told re- flectively as we shan . tea in the lobby at Cia; Jge's, one of London's more rmal hotels.
"There's altogeth» too much of this psycho-a îlysis. After all, what you re is what you do, isn't it!
We accompanied the sisters to a perform; e of playwright Arthur iüeri "Incident At Vichy," play dealing with the reactions of Jews rounded up in z- single day in a small Fren h city
Both sisters took > o rous exception to Miller' hypo, thesis - that all of , even persecuted Jews, h.ve a streak of Fascism in is and that we are therefore qually guilty of Fascist ex sses.
"Can't accept it all," Ida said. "The mc es of the minor charact s are brilliantly sketched
"People did foo1 them- selves, because they uldn't look the real horror in the face. They did k their lives, because they mldn't abandon their I iture.
They did delude tl selves into thinking it wa- all a
matter of class war.
"But Miller has never understood, as we i. the whole coarse, vulga loath- some truth of Nazis
"Decent people and do sin. Decent pe< can be cowardly, selfish, thful, adulterous, idolatrous - but not Fascist. The uman sinner cannot be a rt of the Fascist condition
In the Cook sister1 odest flat are memorabilia their
curiously generous, warm,
There is an impre e col- lection of photog' s of opera singers who e de- lighted them. Tb are many delicate chin. helots presented by grat> men and women who hai. thing else to give.
And there is a fin; record player, with hun. N of operatic records st. i be-
Rosa Ponselle, th, amed coloratura soprano, ? 1 is 3 good friend of t Cook sisters, told us, "Lt ano"
Ida have derived n from living than anyone know. Perhaps because they have asked for so little. They have humbly asked only w at they could give."
Several months ago, the two sisters went to New York City to participate in a bond drive for the Israeli
They were greeted by a large, emotional crowd of
Jewish admirers, among them some of the 9 sur-
vivors, their relatives, t f iends, and onlookers, who napped, cheered, threw their arms around the pleased but em barrassed ladies, wept for the joy of life, wept for the dead, and loaded Louise and Ida
with red roses.
"Just how manv people did you rescue?" one «oman finally asked the sisters.
LOUISE: 'Twenty-tune, directly."
THE WOMAN: "Oh, how many!" "
IDA: "How very few.