Gestapo Train No. 31000: A Train in Winter, 1943

When France fell to Germany in 1940, the French resistance was born. Both men and women participated in these terrorist activities to kill and remove the Nazis. However, it would be four years before France was free and in the meantime, thousands of citizens that were against Germany were caught and tossed into cattle cars and shipped to camps.

Caroline Moorehead is the author of A Train in Winter and it is a riveting book about a special train that left France, Train 31000, in January, 1943. Inside the cattle cars were 230 French women, all caught while conducting French Resistance activities. As the train left France, most had expected it to go to Ravensbruch, a prison camp. However, this train with its special contents went to a special destination: death camps. It was the only time French Resistance trains went there in four years. The camp was the infamous, Auschwitz. When the women unloaded, they walked by the stench of the incinerators where 90% of all Jews were sent into upon arrival. The women ended up in Birkenau labor camp where they were stripped, shaved clean and wiped with a gasoline rag to disinfect. All would be tattooed with "31" for the train they arrived on.

Within six months, most of the 181 women died from numerous causes within the camp. When they became too weak, they were gassed. They were forced to run through a gauntlet of guards who beat them, if they fell, they were executed. A woman who protested the killing of an innocent child, was shot in the head. A daughter refused to be split up with her mom, both were sent to the gas chamber.

Who were the women? They were university professors, haridressers, dentists, doctors, teachers and housewifes. By the time the Allied forces had arrived to free them, only 52 remained in skin and bones. Three would soon die, leaving only 49. Today, only 7 remain alive as of 2008.

The book is gripping. A good, somber read.

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