Ida Cook aka Mary Burchell
Two sisters from London, Ida Cook, born in 1902, and Louise Cook, born August 24, 1904, helped 29 Jews escape from the horror and danger of Nazi persecution in Germany and Austria during the three-year period preceding World War II, but mainly after Kristallnacht in November 1938.
The love for opera, which was shared by Ida and Louis from their girlhood on, started the sisters on their rescue activities. The two, working as civil service clerks, managed to save enough money from their salaries to buy opera and concert tickets both in Europe and the USA. The trips widened their circle of operatic friends. The trips to Germany brought them gradual realization of what was happening. Their travels became the cover-up for a two-person rescue committee in which they were the sole promoters, producers and financial supporters.
When returning to England, they smuggled valuables (such as jewelry), which allowed Jews fleeing Germany to satisfy the British financial security requirements for immigration. They worked with Austrian conductor Clemens Krauss and his wife, the soprano Viorica Ursuleac, who had initially told them of the persecution of the Jews.
The money came from Ida, who had become a successful writer of light romances, and whose pen name was Mary Burchell. During her career she wrote 112 books.
The two women put into the rescue work all their warmth of heart, devotion and rare perseverance, ready to sacrifice their personal safety, time and energy. After they had rescued the 29 people, their interest and active involvement in their lives never stopped. They rented a special flat in London for the purpose of sheltering the refugees. Ida Cook traveled all over England to make speeches, lecturing in churches to raise money for those Jews who needed help and support.
The testimonies of those rescued point out the charity, friendship and courage of these remarkable Englishwomen. They also express deep gratitude and appreciation of their work. Among the rescued people was Friedl Orlando, originally from Frankfurt, a journalist by profession, who was brought to London on a student’s permit, just when she lost any hope of escaping. Other protégés were members of the Maliniak family – Jerzy Maliniak, originally from Poland, who was the assistant conductor of the Vienna Opera, his Aryan wife Gerda and their little daughter.
Ida died in 1986 and Mary in 1991.
The story of Ida and Louise was told in Ida’s autobiography We Followed Our Stars (1956). In 2021, investigative journalist Isabel Vincent published Two Against Hitler: The True Story of Two Courageous Sisters, a Rescue Mission in the Third Reich, and Opera, about the Cook sisters.