There’s a great line in the play The History Boys by the character Mrs Lintott. “History,” she says, “is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.”
With Remembrance Day fast approaching, I plan to post articles over the next couple of weeks featuring four remarkable and brave women who supposedly followed behind, but in fact led the way; Ida Cook, Dr Elsie Inglis, Nurse Edith Cavell and Dame Margot Turner.
Writing under the name Mary Burchell, Ida Cook (1904-1986) wrote over 125 romance novels for Mills and Boon (Harlequin). She also helped found The Romantic Novelists Association in the UK and served as its president for many years.
An impressive CV in itself, but perhaps the proudest moment of Ida’s life came in 1965 when she and her sister, Mary Louise, were honoured as Righteous Gentiles by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel.
During the 1930s, funded by money earned from her romance novels, Ida and her sister helped 29 Jews escape the murderous regime of Nazi Germany.
At that time, Jews were forced leave all their wealth and possessions behind if they wished to leave Germany. Countries around the world, including Britain, refused entry to Jews unless they brought their wealth and possessions with them. An evil Catch-22.
Under the scrutiny of the Nazi security forces, Ida and Mary Louise sought out Jews in need. Using their love of opera and their connections with famous opera singers of the day, they visited Germany and Austria, supposedly to attend concerts. In reality, these two modest sisters carried little with them as they entered the country, but left wearing jewellery belonging to Jews desperate to flee the Nazi regime, thus allowing their owners to meet the stringent UK immigration requirements. Ida and her sister put themselves at great risk in their attempt to save as many lives as they could. Had they been discovered they would certainly have faced imprisonment in one of Hitler’s concentration camps, if not worse.
Ida Cook. (And Mary Louise.) Romance writer. Genuine Heroines.
Safe Passage: The Remarkable True Story of Two Sisters Who Rescued Jews from the Nazis by Ida Cook (Nov 1 2008)