Publisher and Publication Date: HarperCollins Publishers. 2011.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II. France. Holocaust. Women and literature.
Source: Public library.
Audience: Readers of history, World War II, French Resistance, and the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.
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A Train in Winter is the story of French women, from all walks of life, who were arrested and jailed in France in 1942 by the work of the Nazis and the French who were collaborators. This is also the year of the Jewish round-up in France. In January 1943, they were sent by train to Auschwitz, Birkenau. Later in the war, the women were split up and sent to other camps. For example, Ravensbruck and Mauthausen.
These women had been a part of the Resistance in France. Many of them were members of the Communist Party. Most of the women had husbands and lovers who were in the Resistance. Some were swept up in the arrests because of their affiliation.
There were 230 French women who arrived at Birkenau. Most of the women died of dysentery, disease, abuse, starvation, and execution.
This is the first nonfiction history book I’ve read specifically about the French women involved (in some way) in the Resistance during World War II. They were political prisoners.
An important thing to note about this book is it does not focus on one woman or a few women. It is a broad look at many women. When reading a book with a long list of people, the book can come across as a fact-based book. There are brief personal stories included, not lengthy stories, but brief, and these bring a personal intimate look at several of the women. In some instances, it was a mother and daughter who were arrested. In some instances, the women had young children or were pregnant. In showing a large sweeping group of women, I see a fuller picture of the Nazi’s brutality against not just a few people but a huge group of those who stood in their way. I know this in theory. I realize the depth in a book like this.
One of the women prisoners is a psychiatrist. The area she worked in brought her in to contact with Joseph Mengele, the German physician who did medical experiments at Auschwitz. She gave witness to horrendous acts.
The horrific acts against them are emotional and provocative.
One of the most important chapters is at the end. The after-effects of trauma inflicted on the women. How they were not able to articulate what had happened. Its effect on their personal lives after the war.
There is a follow-up chapter addressing those Nazi’s who brutalized them after the war ended.