Opposition To Nazis Binds French Women In 'Train' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Opposition To Nazis Binds French Women In 'Train'

Play associated audio

The Nazis marched into Paris in the early hours of June 14, 1940, leaving the French shocked at how quickly their country had fallen. Most of the populace watched and waited as swastikas went up on Parisian boulevards — but not everyone.

Journalist Caroline Moorehead's latest book, A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, chronicles what happened to 230 women from all over the country who did not accept the occupation quietly.

The women — couriers, printers, clandestine radio operators — were rounded up in the first major French police operations against the Resistance. They ended up in the Romainville prison on the outskirts of Paris.

"They started coming together by the late spring of 1942, and quite soon, these women began to form friendships," Moorehead tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Jacki Lyden. "They were in dormitories, they shared their food, they taught each other things."

That bond would keep many of them alive. In January 1943, the women were loaded onto cattle cars and sent east to Auschwitz.

"When they got there, it was quickly plain that some ... would not survive at all," Moorehead says. Of the 230 women, only 49 returned at the end of the war. The ghastly conditions at Auschwitz were heartbreaking for the French women, Moorehead says, but that only strengthened their determination to get each other through.

"One of the most touching things one of them said to me was, 'You have to understand, there came a moment when our own deaths were no more important to us than the deaths of our friends,'" Moorehead says.

Life proved difficult for most of the 49 who returned. Their health — both mental and physical — had been broken in the camps, she says, and they often felt as if there was no place for them in a recovering France.

Moorehead tracked down four survivors — all in their 80s and 90s — who were well enough to describe what they had been through. "They were extremely friendly and warm, and they were extremely keen to tell their stories," she says.

"One of the problems for these women it when they got back — it was not until the summer of 1945, when France had been liberated for a year — and nobody really wanted to hear their stories," Moorehead says. Charles de Gaulle had promised that the country would be swift to punish traitors and collaborators — but then, France would move on.

"I had the feeling when I went to see them," she says, "that they were longing to tell their whole story from beginning to end, to somebody who really, really wanted to listen."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Miss Colombia Wins Pageant; Miss Jamaica Wins Twitter?

Days later, bad feelings linger among the Miss Universe pageant viewers who believe that the wrong contestant won. Many watchers on social media say Miss Jamaica should being wearing the crown.
NPR

Watch 'Bob's Burgers'? Now You Can Eat Them, Too

What happens when you try to make a burger out of a pun? One blog, two years, and dozens of recipes later, millions of fans can now cook up their very own Bob's burgers.
WAMU 88.5

Drilling Off Virginia Coast Could Harm Neighboring States, Cardin Says

The Obama administration has decided to open up the Atlantic states to offshore drilling, a move that is not playing well among East Coast democrats like U.S. Sen. Cardin (D-MD).
NPR

Facebook Suffers Self-Inflicted Outage

A Facebook statement said the disruption was caused by a technical change it made to the site and wasn't a cyberattack. The outage lasted an hour.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.