04 March 2014

A Train In Winter by Caroline Moorehead, Book review

  • UK Publisher: Vintage (6 September 2012)
  • Paperback: 384 pages

  • US Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 23, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061650710
  • Paperback: 400 pages


In January 1943, 230 women of the French Resistance were sent to the death camps by the Nazis who had invaded and occupied their country. 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. 

Caroline Moorehead, a distinguished biographer, human rights journalist, and the author of Dancing to the Precipice and Human Cargo, brings to life an extraordinary story that readers of Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken will find an essential addition to our retelling of the history of World War II—a riveting, rediscovered story of courageous women who sacrificed everything to combat the march of evil across the world.

My thoughts:

Pride, determination and love of country and family made these mothers, sisters, daughters of all ages and backgrounds stand up to make a difference. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity their inspiration.

Their country now occupied by a brutal enemy, their government and land divided, with collaboration at many levels, rationing near starvation and the cruelest of Winters, denunciations a constant threat, entire neighbourhoods deported, these women did not hesitate for a moment and fought back any way they could!

Often used as 'passeuses' (courriers), they left friends and families behind, moving often for fear of detection and carried messages, faked i.d.s, weapons, distributed underground papers, helped political refugees, downed Allied pilots and victims of anti Semite rules cross into safer territories and so on...

Captured, often tortured, they faced months in infamous prisons, saw their comrades and loved ones either deported to the East or shot and still together, faced hellish places where no human should ever find themselves. 

Caroline Moorehead's biographical story of these women and their place in French resistance unfolds from the beginning of the occupation to their incarceration and eventual destination: Auschwitz. 

Placed on the only train to carry women 'combattantes' to a Nazi death camp during the Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) phase, these 230 women will discover a camaraderie unequal, instinctively knowing their survival depended on their solidarity as a group.
Fourty nine only would return but their story did not end there. Their return home brought a new test to their bravery, many facing the loss of loved ones in addition to a remarkable lack of support from their compatriots. Once the war was over, it was it seems a duty of each individual to look forward and not behind. Atrocities were to be forgotten, the guilty often escaping justice in order to bring the country back to its former glory.

One of the women, Charlotte Delbo wrote a book about her horrific experience called 'Auschwitz and After'. In it she described herself as having two kinds of memories: The first allowed her to see Auschwitz as part of a narrative, something that happened but ended, allowing her to keep going. 
The second condemned her to feel it was never, and would never be, over. 

Amongst these women were homemakers, students, teachers, doctors, communists, Catholics and Jews...Their ages ranged from the teens to the sixties and included such as Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, niece of the creator of the Barbar children’s stories, who ran one of the first cells of Resistance in occupied France, Genevieve de Gaulle, niece of the General and Adelaide de Hautval .

A monumental edification of the courage these women displayed, this is a story to be told and remembered for the two fold message it carries: together they survived, and forgotten, they should never be!

Caroline Moorehead's writings are known for their eloquence and A Train In Winter is nothing but brilliant!  The author holds no punch!

Letters, records and photos are also included, no longer faceless names but a stark reminder of the tremendous courage displayed by these women and others like them: French, Belgian, Dutch, Polish, Russians (including two Americans) resisters. 

Those who survived made sure the others were not forgotten: names, ages and brief biographies are listed in the Appendix as a reminder and perhaps a warning to those in denial!

5 Stars and worth so much more!

Note to Readers: 
I chose to feature the original British cover more fitting than the US one in my opinion.

Meet the Author:

Caroline Moorehead is the biographer of Bertrand Russell, Freya Stark, Iris Origo and Martha Gellhorn. 

In her interview with New York Social Diary she tells us: "I am fascinated by the accommodations people make with life in order to get through stuff and in order to live."

Well known for her work in human rights she has published a history of the Red Cross and a book about refugees, Human Cargo.

She was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award in 2009 for her biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Dancing to the Precipice


Gateway to hell: The entrance to Auschwitz concentration camp

Gateway to hell: The entrance to Auschwitz concentration camp.

  • Note: This was a library loan and all opinions mine only.


  1. Wow sounds good! thanks for sharing Love Heather

    1. This sort of testimony might not appeal to everyone Heather, but you can only but feel awe for their courage!
      Lovely to see you here and God bless,

  2. I thought this one was a bit dry in parts and I had a hard time keeping track of all the women she covered. But the story itself was both fantastic and heartbreaking.

    1. Heartbreaking indeed Anna but well worth reading and pray none of us have to endure such hardship!


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