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A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship and Survival in Auschwitz Kindle Edition
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The trainload of this true tale was a unique event as its load was 230 women, mostly French but including a few from other countries, brought from various prisons and detention centres across France and whom were all opposed to the German occupation of their country. They were not just opposed but active opposers - Resistance workers, Maquis, couriers, radio operators, arms distributors or anyone who provided them with aid or assistance of any kind could have been included. Young or old, professional or less well educated, mothers or widowed; all were represented. Although a brief life history is sometimes provided, some of the women's names and details were not fully known and there is little more than a surname, possibly a nom de guerre.
The life expectancy of most within Auschwitz was low and relatively few were sufficiently lucky and able to speak post-War about their experiences. Some of its occupants were used as forced labour in nearby factories, working long hours on a starvation diet. Disease and physical abuse were rife and survival was not guaranteed as part of the camp was dedicated to the killing and cremation of its occupants. However, of the 230 only 49 survived (just over one-in-five) to return to France.
The book is randomly illustrated and photographs of some of the women are included. There are several other relevant illustrations. There is an appendix listing in total all the names of the women concerned, including the seven then surviving in 2008 when the book was being written, the other 42 survivors and the remainder who died while in the camp are separately and collectively grouped accordingly.
This book is the story of all those women and how their common situation and building friendships and comradeship helped them endure and survive. Some of the women gave evidence at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials which may have helped in the convictions of several of those responsible.
It is a rare and unusual story of a single wartime event and of the courage that its subjects demonstrated.
The first part of the book begins with the collapse of France in the summer of 1940, when the Germans invaded Paris and where most French citizens were so stunned they just waited to see what would happen, fearing the same inhumane treatment that had been delivered to the Polish people during the German invasion of Poland. The German soldiers were very surprised by the passivity of the French as they handed in their weapons and initially accepted the conditions offered to them. However, there was one group of citizens not prepared to accept defeat and this was the French Communist Party, already trained in opposition and ready to become the main focus of resistance. Most of the women we come to know in this book were Communists but, in general, men and women who joined the Resistance came from all economic levels and political leanings of French society. The women of the French Resistance carried messages, printed and distributed newspapers, collected and concealed weapons, hid escaping Jews and some worked as `passeurs', helping people to escape across the demarcation line between occupied and unoccupied zones. Their contribution to the work of the Resistance was immensely important but was also incredibly dangerous - they risked not only their own lives but the lives of their families.
Caroline Moorhead's book tells the amazing stories of these women - about who they were, how they became involved with the Resistance, how they were captured and how they were treated by the French police and the Gestapo once they had been caught. These women were brutally treated; they were practically starved and were regularly beaten but their bravery, determination, mental endurance and, not least, their strong sense of camaraderie kept them alive - for a time, anyhow. Of the 230 women only 49 survived to return to France.
This book is primarily about friendship between women; it is about how they cared for and about each other; it is about generosity, intimacy, courage, dignity, determination and human endurance. It is about life and death. It was a harrowing read and I will admit to being in tears several times throughout the reading of this book, but I learnt things I didn't know - for example, I had no knowledge about the `Brigade Speciales', a section of the French police who worked closely with the Nazis, becoming an almost parallel Gestapo, with their own manual in French informing them what forms of torture they could use - however most importantly I learnt about a group of amazing women who would not surrender to the Nazis. This is one of those books that you don't actually enjoy reading, but you feel the better for having read.
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