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Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees [Hardcover]

Edward Stourton
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 April 2013

The mountain paths are as treacherous as they are steep - the more so in the dark and in winter. Even for the fit the journey is a formidable challenge. Hundreds of those who climbed through the Pyrenees during the Second World War were malnourished and exhausted after weeks on the run hiding in barns and attics. Many never even reached the Spanish border.

Today their bravery and endurance is commemorated each July by a trek along the Chemin de la Liberté - the toughest and most dangerous of wartime routes. From his fellow pilgrims Edward Stourton uncovers stories of midnight scrambles across rooftops and drops from speeding trains; burning Lancasters, doomed love affairs, horrific murder and astonishing heroism.

The lives of the men, women and children who were drawn by the war to the Pyrenees often read as breathtakingly exciting adventure, but they were led against a background of intense fear, mounting persecution and appalling risk. Drawing on interviews with the few remaining survivors and the families of those who were there, Edward Stourton's vivid history of this little-known aspect of the Second World War is shocking, dramatic and intensely moving.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (25 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857520512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857520517
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 246,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"This is a very shocking book. It recaptures the adventure and the horror as it brilliantly conjures up the voices of the past." (Jason Goodwin Country Life)

"Charming but astute, Stourton captures not only the extraordinary courage of the escapers and the passeurs, or guides, who helped them, but the sense of danger and excitement as they evaded their pursuers." (Adrian Brewer The Tablet)

"A moving retelling of some of the war's most heroic episodes" (Nigel Jones Sunday Telegraph)

"Stourton's richly rewarding research into the wartime journeys across the Pyrenees reminds us of so many dramatic stories of courage, tragedy, endurance and survival." (Iain Finlayson Saga Magazine)

"Stourton writes evocatively and with sensitivity... an engaging collection of tales." (Viv Watts Daily Express)

Book Description

The secret history of the WW2 escape routes through the Pyrenees from France to Spain: personal stories of endurance, betrayal and remarkable bravery.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Factual Pyrenean Escapades... 2 Mar 2013
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees by Edward Stourton is a fascinating collection of stories and accounts of escaping from the Nazis over the Pyrenean mountains.

The book is logically divided into chapters about the different types of people using these escape lines; downed pilots, Jews, children, résistance fighters, etc. Stourton effectively uses the memoirs of individuals to evocatively describe the escape lines, routes, procedures and subsequent adventures of escaping to and through the Pyrenees.

The book is a well written page turner and it's evident a lot of research has been done by the author. I like that it's written using personal stories and anecdotes rather than as a straight history book as this makes it much easier to relate to. However, this does mean that the complicity of Vichy France & Franco Spain in assisting the Nazis is not deeply challenged, a little too sympathetic?

A Highly recommendable book, full of adventurous true tales, real heroes and heroines.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cruel crossing by Edward Stourton 31 Jan 2013
By R. Gardner VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I expected the book to contain or concentrate on the Pyrenees in terms of maybe a story of a guide or chain of safe houses during the last world war, But in fact it really casts almost everywhere in France and beyond. What it really is about are the different underground networks of agents that spirited the captured forces over the Pyrenees, in fact the broad spectrum of people that crossed was enormous, from soldiers, airmen, Jews, disaffected peoples of all nationalities that had fallen prey to the occupying forces, It also illustrates the division within the French population across the nation as well. The author gives a lot of information about the people mentioned and seems to have done his home work well.
Edward Stourton is a well known presenter on TV and knows how to put the information over and you are aware that he has been there in the area for considerable time before writing the book. In many ways the stories illustrate the resilience of the human spirit and on the other hand the cruelty that can be delivered as well. At the end of the day you wonder as you read the book, How would 'I' have reacted in the same situation?.
In some ways the saddest fact is that one nation could be so divided within itself. If you are interested in this aspect of the last war in France you will find this a very informative book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book 20 Mar 2013
By Delfhill VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a compelling read. I had a vague idea of escape lines over the Pyrenees, but knew very little, as it turns out, of the wider picture in wartime France. Edward Stourton has written a widely researched account that goes far beyond the Pyrenees themselves, addressing the various and many factors and politics that pervaded France at the time. At times the narrative is disturbing and shocking, forget any romantic notions of what occurred, there are plenty of examples of appalling treachery and brutality. The atrocities towards the end of the war are particularly awful, but the redeeming factor throughout are the detailed accounts of individual bravery and selflessness. This is an intelligent, detailed, very readable and highly compelling read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good 27 Feb 2013
By Mr. Pj Williams VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
as someone whos grandfather had to escape over these passes and mountains after the spanish civil war. I was curious to read this book. I know it doesnt cover that period, but it allowed me to undertsand some of the issues and dangers he would have faced escaping ( granted in reverse) The author obviously cares about his subjects, and relays thier stories well, however I think you could make a book out of most of thier stories by themselves, and so some of them seemed a little fleeting in parts. All in all a good read, well written. it is trully amazing what people are willing to go through to escape from captivity, or teh prospect of, and also no less amzing the people who are willing to risk it all to help them.

in short a book of escapes, evasions, loss, and hope, as well as betrayl. A great bedtime read
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a collection of stories, many of which are based upon interviews either with one or more of the persons concerned or their immediate families, concerning the activities of those who had helped during WW2 to effect the escape into Spain of Allied airmen and other military personnel, opponents of the Nazi regime and members of underground forces who may have been the targets for Nazi attention.

Those who were involved, the escapees and those who helped them, were all at risk of losing their lives if identified, found or exposed. Other than the Allied military personnel, those who assisted in these escapes were many and various. Some were members of an underground movement, all were anti-nazi and included individuals of many nationalities and a few Germans. For any route, there may well have been numerous stages some of which may have been based upon arrival at a specified location before being guided, sometimes in groups, over the final stages of a journey although others were mostly accompanied by a guide for most stages. These journeys could have started or finished at any time of year and in all weathers, some of the winters being extraordinarily harsh. Many were ill-equipped for their journeys and the final cross-Pyrenees stages were most taxing for those unused to Alpine-style climbing or the environment.

Most of these stories involve French, Belgian, Dutch and Spaniards, the latter mostly Basques whose responsibility was the final leg crossing the Pyrenees. Some of these stories are well-known, including that of Airey Neave, and a few others that I had read elsewhere or seen referred to in some documentary or other, and others far less so and possibly told here in detail for the first time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars nice parallel to parts of The Return' by Victoria Hislop
Interesting reading,nice parallel to parts of The Return' by Victoria Hislop,which,though fictional tells of the refugees crossing from Spain to France
Published 10 days ago by Mr. P. J. Hawes
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book - i did the crossing this year and ...
Great book - i did the crossing this year and its a tough journey - the book is a must read before or after you do the Chemin de la liberte.
Published 27 days ago by michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
As described
Published 1 month ago by BB
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Only just started it however I am confident it will match my expectations.
Published 1 month ago by Andy Murray
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Bought as a present so unable to comment, looks suitable
Published 2 months ago by Grandma T
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of the escape routes across the Pyrenees in World War 2
An extremely well-written story deatiling the various escape lines across the Pyrenees which were used in World War 2 by those seeking to escape from deportation to Nazi Germany,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by ALUN PRICE-DAVIES
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting times, interesting topic but insufficiently focussed
The 'crossing' of the title was indeed cruel but Edward Stourton did not confine himself to either the crossing or escaping Hitler so , unlike the mountain climb,the prose rambled... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Helen Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
A really good read, locals were so brave getting people over the Pyrenees out of danger during the last war.
Published 4 months ago by Pensioner
5.0 out of 5 stars Cruel Crossing
Thoroughly enjoyable book that told me a great deal about the resistance activities in France and especially in the Pyrenees during the second world war.
Published 4 months ago by Ian keightley
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what i expected
I expected this book to contain accounts of how people struggled to walk over the Pyrenees without proper clothing and equipment , in fact it hardly touches on the Pyrenees at all... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jim61
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