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A Train in Winter

An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

Moorehead, Caroline

(Book - 2011)
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
A Train in Winter
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Baker & Taylor
Combines original sources, archival research, and personal interviews to relate the story of 230 women of the French Resistance who were captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo outside of Paris before being transported to Auschwitz.

HARPERCOLL

They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen who scrawled "V" for victory on the walls of her lycÉe; the eldest, a farmer's wife in her sixties who harbored escaped Allied airmen. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, education, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie.

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.

A Train in Winter draws on interviews with these women and their families; German, French, and Polish archives; and documents held by World War II resistance organizations to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival?and of the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship.



Baker
& Taylor

Combining original sources, archival research and in-depth personal interviews, this riveting narrative follows the 230 women of the French Resistance who, imprisoned by the Gestapo outside of Paris, turned to each other, finding solace and strength in friendship. (This book was previously listed in Forecast. 25,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollins, c2011
ISBN: 9780061650703
0061650706
Branch Call Number: 940.5336 M
Characteristics: 374 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.

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Mar 27, 2014
  • Edgarmole rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This is very valuable as a book of research; as a book for general readers it has too much background information, the central part of the book is very interesting. Although the events are grim, the author shows the human side of the women's experiences. Actually it felt like a more extreme version of how my uncle, who was in a combat airplane during the war, experienced civilian life as a pale half-life, compared to his vivid and comradely experiences with his Army buddies.

Oct 15, 2013
  • wmtlady rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

Book is extremely well researched but fails to engage the reader with the women survivors; it fails to move from research to a fluid narration.

Aug 17, 2012
  • villapark rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

I just couldn't finish reading this one. I liked the setting and story but I was lost in the details. There were too many characters and plot lines for me to follow.

Apr 07, 2012
  • floy rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Although the French government cooperated with the Germans when the Nazis took over France in WWII and although many French were indifferent to the fate of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and others deemed undesirable by the Nazis, there was a hard core of resistance in France. This book is the story of some of the French women who were part of that resistance - they had been couriers of messages, printers of posters, guides for those needing to get out of the country, and many offered their homes as shelters for those who needed concealment to survive. All of these things were illegal and the perpetrators subject to imprisonment or death at the hands of the Nazis. Although many in the resistance remained undetected, this particular group ended up being sent to concentration camps - some were exterminated, some died of illnesses or starvation, a few survived. Those who outlived the war credited their survival to their age (usually 20s or 30s), general good health and, most of all, the solidarity the women felt which gave them the will to live in spite of the immense difficulties in doing so.

The Nazis in France defied international rules on the treatment of POWs by declaring that for every German soldier killed by the French resistance, they would kill 50-100 French people being held hostage in internment camps and other facilities. The French prisoners, awaiting their deaths by firing squads or the guillotine, would sing the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, until the last voice was extinguished. Soon a tradition developed - French resistance prisoners would sing the anthem whenever they were taken by the Nazis from places of incarceration to places of hard labor to the places of their deaths to give themselves strength and remind themselves of their purpose. Reading about the singing reminded me of the use of song in the American civil rights movement.

I was surprised to learn how the women spent their time in the camps when they weren't forced to work. The French resistance women stuck together and offered classes to share their knowledge with each other. There were classes on political history, philosophy, foreign languages, and even re-enactments of theatrical plays. Being distracted by such discussions and activities gave them some relief from the onslaught of horror. One commandant at Auschwitz enjoyed classical music and an orchestra of prisoners was formed. It sounds unbelievable but they played Strauss for the prisoner work crews as they left and returned from their worksites to the camps each day.

Only 49 of the 230 French resistance women survived the war. 34 of the 49 were Communists who had dedicated themselves to fighting the Nazis and who were strengthened by their steadfast belief in the Resistance. Their solidarity with each other provided a life support that many of the other incarcerated women lacked. Sadly, after the war there was recrimination. The collaborators were scorned and sometimes imprisoned, the Jews were disparaged for allegedly not fighting back, and some of the leaders of the French Resistance achieved political power but overall there was a great deal of denial of French complicity in the extermination of Jews. As recently as 1980 a poll of French people between 18 & 44 found that 34% believed the existence of gas chambers had not been sufficiently verified.

The surviving French resistance women returned home but often were unhappy in the new normality of their post-war lives. They suffered from survivor's guilt. They were racked with memories that could never be forgotten. They missed the solidarity with their friends during the most intense life/death situation of their lives. They found that their families and neighbors couldn't really relate to what had happened to them. Some lapsed into silence, rarely speaking of those years of captivity when they nearly died.

Jan 18, 2012
  • veerukka rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

So difficult to read. Very detailed, graphic description of life and death in Birkenau and Ravensbruck.

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