Ella rounded the barracks and there, striding through a gate in the wire fencing from the next block, was Rosli Naf. The Swiss Red Cross directrice stood alongside a guard, wearing her customary blue nursing dress with a high white collar, rumpled and dirty, minus the apron. Her cheeks were flushed red and her eyes wild as she entered the block, scanning the clusters of women and children. Her hair wisped in all directions, loosened from her bun and catching the light of the slanting sun like a messy halo.
When she thumped into Rosli, hugging her as if she were a life raft in a deep sea, the directrice’s strong arms wrapped around her without hesitation. Sobs broke loose in Ella’s clogged throat, and she was suddenly weak, overcome with shock and, though it was to faint yet to claim, hope.
“It’s all right now,” Rosli murmured in her ear, patting down Ella’s hair as she calmed. “I’m here, and I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere.”
Kristin’s first book, Courage, My Love, was my favourite historical fiction read in 2021. So, you could only imagine how excited I was when I found out she had another book coming out. The Winter Orphans is masterfully written and such a powerful read. Kristen knows how to create a riveting and emotional story that draws you in. I always love how her stories take a unique perspective on a topic that has been written about quite a bit. For this book, Kristin takes us to the Swiss Red Cross camps that were set up to care for Jewish children in France during World War II. From a historical perspective, I found this whole topic so interesting. I had never really researched the role the Swiss played during the war, so I found their involvement both from a humanitarian and political perspective fascinating and frustrating. This sense of balancing doing what was morally right and staying neutral to appease the Nazi party. Kristin did a great job showing her readers this moral dilemma that existed during this time through her characters. Rosli, Anne-Marie and others involved in the Swiss Red Cross had to make some tough decisions. Do they follow their government’s orders, or do they do what is right and help these children?
This story has a perfect pace to it. Kristin did a fantastic job moving the story along at a quicker pace but stopping at moments when she knew her readers needed a minute or two to absorb what had just happened. I really had no idea where she was taking this story; it wasn’t predictable. That not knowing just hooked me in even more.
Books set in World War II are always a tougher read. But this book tugged at those heartstrings, and for me, it’s because children were the main focus of this story. There really is something about innocent children getting sucked into this horrific event that just makes me so sad. I found myself tearing up at different moments and getting so angry that these children had to go through what they did.
The Winter Orphans is told from three POVs, Rosli, Anne-Marie, and Ella. All three characters are very different and come from different walks of life. But I loved all of them so much. They are smart and strong women who stood up for what was right. Rosli and Anne-Marie each did what they could to defy the Nazi party and protect the children under their care. Ella, who was one of the Jewish children at these camps, was by far my favourite. This fierceness about her just couldn’t be destroyed.
The Winter Orphans is a must-read for any historical fiction fan.