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A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship and Survival in Auschwitz Paperback – 6 Sep 2012
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"This serious and heartfelt book does deliver on its promise of a tale of how female friendship "can make the difference between living and dying"... Profound" (Brian Schofield Sunday Times)
"A harrowing but also uplifting shared story of friendship, courage and endurance" (Independent)
"A story of stunning courage, generosity and hope. They risked their lives to defeat Fascism, by printing subversive literature, hiding Jewish friends or, in the case of one girl, simply insulting a French youth because he had decided to co-operate with the Nazis. The price they paid for their bravery was terrible. A Train in Winter could have been a sad, almost morbid book. In Moorehead's expert hands it is a triumphant one" (Kathryn Hughes Mail on Sunday)
"Compassionate, meticulous and compulsively enthralling... This book is essential reading. The litany of names at the end, with their brief biographies (Yolande, Cecile, Poupette, Mitzy, Lucie...) reminds us weeping is not enough. It bears witness - and warns" (Bel Mooney Daily Mail)
"Moorehead tells her appalling story in measured prose that sets off perfectly the reader's growing sense of wonder that such heroism is possible" (Guardian)
A moving and extraordinary book about courage and survival, friendship and endurance - a portrait of ordinary women who faced the horror of war together.See all Product description
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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.
Earlier reviewers have gone into detail re the book's content and narrative drive but essentially, this second world war-time factual account of 'man's desperate inhumanity to man/woman' is effective on several levels. In both quality and quantity, the research is faultless. The depiction, too, of people and events is impeccable if soul-searing. Indeed, when you read of the extremes of brutality and privation that these woman survived it's not impossible to see, when eventually the small minority made it back to their towns and villages, family and friends, how their stories were initially disbelieved. Indeed, one brief quote (from many similarly terrifying incidents) is enough to exemplify this: "One night, Marie-Claude heard terrible cries; next morning she learnt that because the gas chambers had run out of Zyklon B Pellets, the smaller children had been thrown directly on to the flames. 'When we tell people,' she said to the others, 'who will believe us?' "
From this, too, you will realise that if you're in any way of a less-than-robust mental constitution, shall we say, this book, the second 'part' particularly, is not really for you. It's just too much to bear, at times. The so-called 'good ending' (!) referred to earlier by one reviewer, is actually 'Appendix: the women': 17 pages concisely and unemotionally detailing the deaths and manner of such of not only those who perished but of their wives, husbands and children left bereft and orphaned.
Read this book at your discretion...but read it!
PS I intend no real disrespect to those reviewers I mention, above, sorry...I'm just a little incredulous.