How 320 female members of the French Resistance forged an unbreakable bond.
“Meuilmartant” was short, while “Femme République” wore a grey dress made of angora wool. “Femme Buisson St Louis” was slender, and wore a blue coat when she met “Buissori” on the street. The Gestapo collaborators in occupied Paris during World War II did not know the real names of many of the French Resistance members, so they assigned them nicknames in order to track their movements. The relentless monitoring paid off for the German army: A city-wide sweep in February of 1942 netted them over 100 French Resistance members.
This event was just the beginning of a long and tragic journey that would bring 230 women together, while their families, their countries, and their own lives were irreversibly torn apart.
In A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, journalist and renowned biographer Caroline Moorehead weaves together first-person accounts including interviews, diaries, letters, and photographs, creating a chorus of women’s voices whose stories may never have been told so clearly before now.
The first half of the book focuses on the French Resistance and the women who made up the army of writers, printers, ammunition makers, and couriers who risked their lives and their families’ well-being in response to their ever-decreasing freedom and quality of life under German occupation. When one mother was asked how she could work for the Resistance when there was her family to consider, her response was simple. “It is because I have a child that I do it, this is not a world I wish her to grow up in.”
By the spring of 1942, the occupiers were cracking down and anyone exhibiting anti-German sentiment, however slight, was rounded up and detained at a fort in Romainville that had been turned into as a prison. After months of torture and mass killings, 230 women ranging in age from 17 to 67 boarded a train to Birkenau (part of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp), thinking that they were being taken to work in a German factory. Only 49 of these women would ever return to France.