A Train in Winter

A Train in Winter

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

Book - 2012
Average Rating:
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"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 sixteen, 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 one another, hailing from villages and cities across France--230 brave women united in defiance of their Nazi occupiers--they were eventually hunted down by the Gestapo. Separated from home and loved ones, imprisoned in a fort outside Paris, 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. Drawing on interviews with these women and their families, and on documents in German, French, and Polish archives, A Train in Winter is a remarkable account of the extraordinary courage of ordinary people--a story of bravery, survival, and the enduring power of female friendship."--p. [4] of cover.
Publisher: New York : Harper Perennial, 2012
Edition: First Harper Perennial edition
ISBN: 9780061650710
0061650714
Branch Call Number: 940.5308 Mo
Description: 374 pages : illustrations, maps ; 21 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

In January 1943, the Gestapo hunted down 230 women of the French Resistance and sent them to Auschwitz. This is their story, told in full for the first time--a searing and unforgettable chronicle of terror, courage, defiance, survival, and the power of friendship to transcend evil that is an esse... Read More »


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l
lljreads
Apr 05, 2017

Not historical fiction. Reads like a history book. Having a hard time keeping all the people straight.

AL_ANNAL Mar 07, 2017

Story of incredible sacrifice and heroism!

w
wmtlady
Oct 15, 2013

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.

v
villapark
Aug 17, 2012

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.

f
floy
Apr 07, 2012

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.

veerukka Jan 18, 2012

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

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