|"The hellish entrance at Auschwitz."|
By Caroline Moorehead
Daily Express, August 21, 2011
"On an icy dawn in January 1943, 230 French women were herded on to four cattle trucks in the station of Compiègne. The eldest was a 68-year-old farmer’s wife, the youngest a 15-year-old schoolgirl. In between were teachers and shopkeepers, factory workers and students.Arrested by French police on the orders of the German occupying forces for resistance activities, acting as liaison officers, hiding weapons or writing anti- German slogans on the walls, they had been selected as a warning to troublemakers. Other resisters arrested like them from all over France were being sent to prison or to labour camps in Germany. This group was going to the death camp of Auschwitz. However, these 230 women had deep bonds of friendship and affection born during the many months they had been held together in the old fort of Romainville on the outskirts of Paris. Though separated by age, class, politics and education, they had listened to each other's stories, comforted those who had left children behind, looked after those who were little more than children themselves. They had shared their meagre rations, fought for better conditions, watched each other's backs.
More than 100 of them were communists and something of their closeness, courage and discipline was absorbed by the others. As one of the women would later say: 'The fact that we had known what we were doing, that we weren't victims, made us stronger.' ... When the doors of the cattle trucks were finally pulled back at their destination what hit the women first was the noise: SS guards shouting orders, dogs snarling. They were marched, their thin shoes slithering on the ice, two miles to Birkenau, the women's camp at Auschwitz. [...]"
[n.b. Thanks to Jo Jones for bringing this source to my attention.]