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The Freedom Line by Peter Eisner


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At the time of writing this book, published in 2004, Peter Eisner was a deputy foreign editor at the Washington Post. He is the author of several investigative books and in 1991 won the InterAmerican Press Association Award for his investigations of drug trafficking in the Americas.

 

For this book he delves into the history of the brave men and women in Belgium and France during WW2 who risked their own lives to rescue downed airmen and safely escort them through those countries and over the Pyrenees to Spain.

“Based on interviews with the survivors and in-depth archival research it is the story of a group of friends who chose to act on their own out of a deep respect for liberty and human dignity. Theirs was a courage that presumed to take on a fearfully powerful foe with few defences.”  

 

Eisner, seemingly effortlessly, weaves the stories of the young members of the Comet Line, Dedee de Jongh, Jean-Francois Nothomb, Micheline Dumont and Florentino, the tough Basque guide who, when necessary carried refugees on his back over the mountains to save them from the Nazis, with the story of one downed twenty-year old American pilot.

He brings the danger and tension to life, explains the hardships, the struggles. The involvement of the UK intelligence service MI9 providing money and people to assist including Airey Neave, himself an escaped POW, the first to escape from Colditz, who was later murdered by the IRA.  

 

And he tells of the traitor Jacques Desoubrie who infiltrated the Comet Line causing many members and airmen to be arrested by the Gestapo. After the war he was tried, convicted and executed in France.

This is a fascinating book, at times it reads like a thriller, detailing escapes over the mountains in atrocious weather conditions and dangerous river crossings. It allows time to find out a little more about the individuals, to see them as more than just people of great courage.

 

I’d recommend this to anyone who has an interest in WW2 or in how for some service to a nation is not about serving ones own self gratification through corrupt contracts but about doing what is right.

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