Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cruel Crossing

In November 2011 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme (in 2 parts) called The Freedom Trail. In it we follow Edward Stourton as he makes the crossing from France into Spain following the route of an old WW II escape route called Le Chemin de la Liberté or Freedom Trail.

The programme, narrated by Edward Stourton, is an account of his 4 day journey as he walks the most dangerous WWII escape route over the Pyrenees. As well as a travelogue of his own crossing, Stourton uses this a jumping off point and broadens the picture to include escape routes over the whole of the Pyrenees. There are the remarkable stories of those who escaped to freedom but also of those who risked their lives to help those attempting to escape Nazi occupied France.

Edward Stourton has now turned the radio programme into a book which will appear in April 2013. It is called Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees.

The book is based on his own experiences of crossing the Pyrenees and first hand accounts from those who made the journey during  WW II. As well as interviews with survivors from the time, Stourton also had access to diaries and journals. Relatives were also a precious source of information.

It is obvious from the book that tremendous courage and determination was shown by those attempting to escape and all those in the support network that helped so many to succeed. Exhaustion, malnutrition and sickness had to be contended with and there was the constant fear of capture, torture and death. Many of those in the Allied forces who successfully crossed into Spain, later returned to fight or to gather intelligence and work with the French. 

We also learn that  it was not only forces personel who wanted to escape. A large number of Jews and communists made the crossing to escape persecution and the Death Camps. Young French also crossed to escape the STO (Service du travail obligatoire) or Compulsory Work Service/Forced Labour.

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