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A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  2,845 ratings  ·  682 reviews
They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen who scrawled "V" for victory on the walls of he ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Harper (first published January 1st 2011)
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Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandAn Army at Dawn by Rick AtkinsonBand of Brothers by Stephen E. AmbroseIn the Garden of Beasts by Erik LarsonThe Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
Best World War II history
29th out of 110 books — 144 voters
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey EugenidesThe Leftovers by Tom PerrottaThe Art of Fielding by Chad HarbachThe Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesCatherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2011
51st out of 100 books — 41 voters

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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
Updated 8/5/13 - see link at bottom

Paris had become a city of collaborators, both open and hidden, anti-Semites, anti-Freemasons, repentant communists and right-wing Catholics, who had hated Blum’s Front Populaire and felt more than a sneaking admiration for the German cult of youthful valour, orderliness and heroism.
Thankfully there were people who stood tall against the madness. A Train in Winter is a moving and devastating story of a group of two hundred thirty incredibly brave French women
Melissa Prange
A Train in Winter tells the fascinating story of the French resistance during World War II. The author, Caroline Moorland, focuses her book on the women of the French resistance. These women might not wield guns or plant bombs, but they do house refugees in their hotels, print papers in their basements, and hand out flyers in the streets. These women chose to risk their lives rather than run to safety or simply endure. The women are grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and children, and all are dra ...more

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, whom we have lost this sad August morning, writes this:

"In one of the poems best known to students in my generation, a poem which could be said to have taken the nutrients of the symbolist movement and made them available in capsule form, the American poet Archibald MacLeish affirmed that “A poem should be equal to/not true.” As a defiant statement of poetry's gift for telling truth but telling it slant, this is both cogen
A very fascinating and well written account of 230 women from France that stood up and took part in the Resistance. The book follows them on the journey of German occupation of France to their fate up to and after the liberation of the concentration camps. The author did what great authors do and that is impose thought and reflection on what you've read. There were a lot of questions that were raised for me that will give cause to research and learn more about the many topics discussed. I think ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry dry
A veritable Sahara of a book (minus the camels). The importance of memorializing these women is not in question, and I know many people will appreciate this book. I just couldn't take the writing.

One quibble I had with the portion I did read: She seems to be implying that all the people in the French Resistance were communists. I'm no history expert, but is that not incorrect?
This is a powerful book and one that will stay with me for a very long time. A disturbing account of the atrocities that took place during WW2. A story about friendship, passion and survival. Women who were involved in the resistance movement of occupied France by the Germans; the steps they took to stand up and fight for their country and where it landed them: on a train bound for a concentration camp. All 230 of them. This is a story of the depth of love these women had for each other - how th ...more
This book is true to its billing. Though I was born a couple of decades after the Second World War, the War itself for me is not an abstraction. My father and several relatives served in the military during the War, experienced the hazards of combat in Europe. Besides, my father also knew people who lived in France under the German occupation. Thus, reading this book was a reminder for me of how the Second World War impacted upon the heart and soul of a nation.

The focus of the book is on a group
Carl Brookins
This book falls under the heading of true crime. It deals with mass murder, attempted genocide and a side of France in the 1940’s that is generally not well-known. This is also one of the most difficult and amazing books I have ever had the privilege of reading. This is, as the cover states, “an extraordinary story of women, friendship and resistance in occupied France.”

In mid-June, 1940, the German army occupied Paris and France fell. There was, for a while, a partition, Vichy France under the
In many ways, this book deserves a much higher rating. Moorehead reconstructs the lives (as best she can based on remaining historical evidence) of French women sent to Nazi concentration camps during World War II, specifically the women of Convoy 31000 (the number of the convoy that shuttled them from Paris to the camps and seared into their flesh forever as tattoos). Most of the women on the convoy were political prisoners: women who had been members of the Resistance or via other means, quest ...more
Whoa. It's been awhile since I've "missed" a book after I've finished it and sobbed while reading it. A meticulously researched work that was eye opening w/insights about occupied France and the role of the resistance. I was blown away by what the human spirit can endure. I think everyone wonders what they would do when put in extraordinary circumstances and this book served as a testament to spectrum of the nature of the human animal while capturing the bonds of friendships and the horrors of W ...more
Dec 15, 2011 Alison added it
I am not able to give this book a star rating, because it is both engrossing and poignant and awe-inspiring...while also being horrifying and heartbreaking. It is one I would recommend highly to everyone with the huge caveat that reading it might be awful. *The book* is not awful - what it details is, and the experience of reading it is a good-bad one. (See, I can't even review it coherently!) I knew a good deal about the Holocaust and the camps, but I learned more from this, frightening abhorre ...more
Elaine Burnes
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of this book. I’m not Jewish, I’m not French, but I am a lesbian and it is possible for me to imagine the evil that can be perpetrated against people simply for who they are. This was a story I’d never heard before. It is a must read for anyone who wants to call themselves human. It is both mind boggling and mind numbing. Inspiring but heartbreaking. It won’t answer the questions, why does evil exist or what makes people capable of inflicti ...more
ETA: please see message 27 below. This is a concise summary of my view:
I am glad I read it, but I do believe it has too many problems to give it more stars. I am glad I learned about this French group of women - particularly since I live and spend time in France! I also appreciated that the French behavior during the war is shown honestly. Many of them supported Pétain. This is not washed over. I also found the info about Mengele's experiments both riveting and horrible. I just wish I had come t
How do you write a review on a book that contrasts the absolute cruelty and sadistic imaginations with friendship and altruism? It is very difficult, indeed.

I've read many books on WWII that describe the Jewish POV and soldier POV. This time the POV is that of female political prisoners of war. This point of view hit closer to home as I am neither Jewish nor a soldier. It begs the question, if placed in a situation where not in immediate danger, what side of the line would I stand?

The first part
The Book Maven
This nonfiction piece lacked the same easy readability that other nonfiction authors (i.e., Laura Hillenbrand and Erik Larson) have achieved, so that's why I deducted a star. Other than a few tedious moments, however, this was a really rather pleasurable nonfiction read.

Excuse me--I should qualify that with the follow-up statement of, as pleasurable a read as the subject matter allows.

A Train in Winter follows the fates of over three hundred females who were arrested and punished for their activ
Kristin Strong
A fascinating, heartbreaking, engrossing book about 230 courageous Frenchwomen, arrested and imprisoned for anti-Nazi activities, then transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The fates of many of the women come as no surprise; the miracle is that 49 of them survived horrible conditions, supported each other through the most unthinkable circumstances, avoided the gas chambers, and eventually returned to France. The author does a creditable job of rendering as many women as possible as developed charac ...more
David Williams
Having just put down this book it's difficult for me to marshal my thoughts for a considered review simply because of the impact this harrowing account has had on me emotionally and psychologically. It has left me weeping for the unimaginable cruelty humans are capable of wreaking on their fellows, and my heart full for the extraordinary sacrifices and selfless kind acts that others have been prepared to make in the face of such barbarity even while victims themselves, imprisoned in a man-made h ...more
Guyon Turner
A compelling book with certain ironies, compared with others of its genre:

1. The bulk of the women portrayed (all were women) were educated French resisters with an Aryan background;

2. Many were Parisian Communists who had worked together as part of the Resistance movement; therefore many knew and supported each other through their ordeals, likely saving many of their lives;

3. Few were Jewish. Therefore, they were sent early on to "prison/labor" camps rather than directly to extermination camps.
I am something of a connoisseur of survivor tales, avidly reading of survivors of shipwrecks, doomed polar expeditions, harrowing wilderness treks, calamitous military missions, devastating illnesses, and all-encompassing wars. A well-written tale of survival successfully steers away from being overly sensational, melodramatic, or sentimental but also offers something beyond the mere fact of survival. It's a tightrope walk between lapsing into "moral-of-the-story" tropes and succumbing to a blea ...more
I've always been a person who believes in "playing by the rules", who believes that laws are there for a good reason, who often resists change. This horrifying book put me in the very uncomfortable position of wondering if I would have had the courage and fortitude to do what these women did for something I believed in. They defied the Nazis, mostly in small but vital ways, and they paid dearly. Those not killed outright were taken away to prison camps, where they underwent such brutal mistreatm ...more
Mary Gail O'Dea
This was a bone rattling account of women of the French Resistance who ended up in Birkenau. Of 260 women in their transport, 49 survived. Each was certain that their friendship and resolute mutual support are what got them through. In addition, a few were determined to live to bear witness and two testified at the Nuremberg Trials. The horrible environmental conditions; the fleas, lice and rats; the unbearable cold; the beatings; the endless roll calls; the smell of burning bodies; the wretched ...more
Terri Lynn
Powerful. Astounding. Heartbreaking. When you read most books about the resistance movement in France or elsewhere in Europe during World War 2,it is almost always about the men. You would think that all the women did was sit home knitting socks and stirring soup, keeping the home fires burning.

This book will blow away those notions. When the Nazis routed the French military and occupied France, it was hundreds of French women ranging from young teens to upper 60's who worked diligently to tr
This is a hard book to read.

Hard because of the brutal conditions described but worthy of being read, nonetheless.

I do feel the subtitle: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France is a little misleading. It gives the impression that the story takes place entirely in France. Much, however, deals with conditions in several concentration camps.

That aside, it is difficult not to get caught up in the harsh reality of what these women experienced.

Though it is chall
For some reason, when I picked this up, I thought it was fiction. Wow! Of course, it only took a few pages to realize it wasn't. I've read I don't know how many books about the Holocaust, but this one ...

It can be difficult to follow - it's the story of 230 different women sent in a single transport to Auschwitz, and keeping everyone straight is complicated, to say the least. Most of them were participants in the Resistance in occupied France; their ages ranged from mid-teens to mid-60s; only a
This is a book I’m grateful to have read. It’s also a relief to be finished, as the journey was rough, though not without relief. One silently rejoiced in the rare triumphs, and cheered those few French Resistance workers who managed to survive. That they were imprisoned together proved to be a vital factor, as the strength and closeness of their friendship saved countless lives. The world inhabited by these extraordinarily courageous women defies description. How sad it was that the long awaite ...more
Haunted Greene
I found this book very interesting. However, it was difficult to follow as the author attempted to share as much as possible about the 230 French, female resistance fighters that were shipped to the concentration camps during WWII. It is an important book as it shares the history of these women and Vichy France. This was not something taught in your average history class or even in any of my college-level history classes. The author's zeal to name each of these women and share as much of their s ...more
This is indeed an extraordinary story. I may try to write a more in-depth review, but I need some time to reflect and recover.

I will thank Moorehead for the gift she has given us in bringing to life the stories of these women and providing a voice to their suffering and astonishing courage. If you think there is nothing more you want or need to learn about World War II, this lovingly-researched and -written work will make you realize how little of we understand of the experience of women during
A meticulously researched and reported work. Lots of characters to keep straight, lots of horrendous details about these characters in the Nazi labor and concentration camps....but also many many wonderful moments of friendship, caring, and support between the women. This female support made the difference between life and death.
Margot Peter
Heartbreaking story of 230 women resistance workers who were rounded up in Vichy France and transported to Auschwitcz. It starts out very slowly identifying all the women for this work, but then devolved into the horror they endured and the stories of the 49 who survived. There isn't one happy moment in the book;even the survivors came home with all consuming guilt about their survival. It's a necessary read for anyone who wants to know truth. I have been to Birkenau and could easily imagine e h ...more
Lucy Cormier
A heart wrenching true story of Parisian women, some whom survived the atrocities of World War 2. Caroline Moorland, the author shines the light on women who bravely participated in the French resistance to save lives while risking their own. Moorland takes you on their journey and survival during brutal conditions when captured and transported to termination/concentration camps. I was amazed how brave these women were and how they bonded to collectively support each other under the most indescr ...more
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  • A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII
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  • France the Dark Years 1940-1944
  • And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
  • Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945
Caroline Moorehead has written columns on human rights first for The Times and then for the Independent (1980-91) and has made a series of TV programmes on human rights for the BBC (1990-2000). She has also written the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1998) and has helped to set up a Legal Advice Centre for refugees in Cairo, where she has started schools and a nursery.
More about Caroline Moorehead...
Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val D'orcia

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