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September 16, 2022

The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

During WWII the Swiss Red Cross ran homes for French and refugee children. Many of the refugee children are Jewish. Ella Rosenthal and her sister Hanni reside in such a home near the Pyrenees Mountains. They feel as if they have found a safe haven after having fled Belgium where their parents had sent them when it became apparent that Germany would not be safe for Jews. Unfortunately, the Vichy government wants to play nice with the German aggressors and have started rounding up Jewish refugees over the age of 16. Director Rösli Näf feels she must do something to protect her children. Will she go against the directives of the Swiss Red Cross, and risk losing her job, to save these teens?

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of WWII historical fiction novel The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck
September 2022; Berkley; 978-0593101582
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction

The Winter Orphans
 is told in alternating chapters from the points-of-view of three characters: Ella Rosenthal, Rösli Näf, and another Swiss Red Cross worker Anne-Marie Piguet. These characters are based on real people and the story is based on actual events. 

I read a lot about WWII and Holocaust but I'm still finding pieces of history that I wasn't aware of. Like I knew that Switzerland was a neutral country during the war and knew that there were children's homes where French parents sent their children while Germans occupied France because they could not feed their children. I didn't know that the Swiss Red Cross operated these homes (I think the Catholic Church also ran some) nor that Jewish refugees from other occupied countries were sent to these homes. 

Reading about this new-to-me aspect of WWII was interesting and eye-opening. Kristin Beck does an awesome job of bringing this history to life. As the real-life people the characters represent are little more than footnotes in history, she weaves an engaging story that feels authentic and completely believable. I loved all the historical notes she included at the end of the book. I really appreciate it when an author details what is rooted in facts and what she had to extrapolate or change for the sake of the story's flow.

The Winter Orphans is an engaging story. I loved the characters, there's plenty of tension, and definitely it provided food for thought about WWII. It is one of the best WWII fictional books I've read this year.

If you are in a book club, it would make an excellent book for discussion. 

This book also made me curious about what was going on in the U.S. The U.S. was neutral at the beginning of the war and like the Swiss, they weren't very interested in accepting Jewish refugees. This book has whetted my appetite to know more and I'm looking forward to watching the 3-part, 6-hour Ken Burns documentary The U.S. and the Holocaust which will air on PBS starting Sunday night.

Buy The Winter Orphans at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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