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Ida And Louise Cook

The story of Ida and Louise Cook is possibly the most unlikely story of resistance heroism I’ve come across. The two were unmarried sisters, living with their parents in Wandsworth and working as typists in the civil service, and accounts relate that neither woman had much of a social life.

Written by Jemma Levene, Deputy Director of HOPE not hate Charitable Trust


This changed when they discovered a passion for opera. They would save up to travel, doing everything they could to meet their beloved divas in person. They ended up being befriended by numerous opera stars. To fund their passion, Ida began writing romances for Mills and Boon with huge success. 

“I can’t emphasise sufficiently how we stumbled into this thing.”

By the mid-1930s, through their connections with the opera world, the sisters were becoming aware of the situation in Germany. In a BBC radio interview in 1967, Ida said: “I can’t emphasise sufficiently how we stumbled into this thing.”

Over the next years, they risked their lives dozens of times, travelling ostensibly as eccentric opera fans, but in fact illegally smuggling out furs and jewellery, to provide financial guarantees for refugees. Their cover story was that they were nervous British spinsters who didn’t trust their families, so took all their jewellery with them everywhere. While in Europe, they met contacts to arrange safe passage for Jewish and political refugees.

Clemens Krauss, Director of the Munich Opera House, even arranged performances in the cities and on the days they requested as a front for them to meet contacts. He provided details of performances and cast lists to improve their credentials at immigration control. They stayed in the finest hotels, side-by-side with high-ranking Nazis to show they had nothing to hide. Ida wrote; “If you stood and gazed at them admiringly as they went through the lobby, no one thought you were anything but another couple of admiring fools.”

In the run-up to the war, the sisters rescued many people, as well as persuading others to vouch for refugees, by offering work or financial guarantees. Once the war was over, they continued to use their Mills and Boon income to aid refugees in Germany.