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The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II

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The romance of Casablanca ... the gripping narrative of Eye of the Needle ... both come together in this enthralling true story of World War II resistance fighters and the airmen they saved. As war raged against Hitler's Germany, an increasing number of Allied fliers were shot down onmissions against Nazi targets in occupied Europe. Many fliers parachuted safely behind enem The romance of Casablanca ... the gripping narrative of Eye of the Needle ... both come together in this enthralling true story of World War II resistance fighters and the airmen they saved. As war raged against Hitler's Germany, an increasing number of Allied fliers were shot down onmissions against Nazi targets in occupied Europe. Many fliers parachuted safely behind enemy lines only to find themselves stranded and hunted down by the Gestapo. The Freedom Line traces the thrilling and true story of Robert Grimes, a twenty-year-old American B-17 pilot whose plane was shot down over Belgium on October 20, 1943. Wounded, disoriented and scared, he was rescued by operatives of the Comet Line, a group of tenacious young women and men from Belgium, France and Spain who joined forces to recover Allied aircrews and take them to safety. Brought back to health with their help, Grimes was pursued by bloodhounds, the Luftwaffe security police and the Gestapo. And on Christmas Eve 1943, he and a group of fellow Americans faced unexpected danger and tragedy on the border between France and Spain. The road to safety was a treacherous journey by train, by bicycle and on foot that stretched hundreds of miles across occupied France to the Pyrenees Mountains at the Spanish border. Armed with guile and spirit, the selfless civilian fighters of the Comet Line had risked their lives to create this underground railroad, and by this time in the war, they had saved hundreds of Americans, British, Australians and other Allied airmen. Led by an elegant young Belgian woman, Dédée de Jongh, the group included Jean-François Nothomb, an army veteran who became the group's leader after Dédée was captured; Micheline Dumont, code-named Lily, who wore bobby sox to appear as a teenage girl; and Florentino, the tough Basque guide who, when necessary, carried exhausted refugees on his back over the mountains to save them from the Nazis. All the while, the Gestapo and Luftwaffe police were on their trail. If caught, the airmen faced imprisonment, but their helpers would be tortured and killed. Based on interviews with the survivors and in-depth archival research, The Freedom Line 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 defenses.


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The romance of Casablanca ... the gripping narrative of Eye of the Needle ... both come together in this enthralling true story of World War II resistance fighters and the airmen they saved. As war raged against Hitler's Germany, an increasing number of Allied fliers were shot down onmissions against Nazi targets in occupied Europe. Many fliers parachuted safely behind enem The romance of Casablanca ... the gripping narrative of Eye of the Needle ... both come together in this enthralling true story of World War II resistance fighters and the airmen they saved. As war raged against Hitler's Germany, an increasing number of Allied fliers were shot down onmissions against Nazi targets in occupied Europe. Many fliers parachuted safely behind enemy lines only to find themselves stranded and hunted down by the Gestapo. The Freedom Line traces the thrilling and true story of Robert Grimes, a twenty-year-old American B-17 pilot whose plane was shot down over Belgium on October 20, 1943. Wounded, disoriented and scared, he was rescued by operatives of the Comet Line, a group of tenacious young women and men from Belgium, France and Spain who joined forces to recover Allied aircrews and take them to safety. Brought back to health with their help, Grimes was pursued by bloodhounds, the Luftwaffe security police and the Gestapo. And on Christmas Eve 1943, he and a group of fellow Americans faced unexpected danger and tragedy on the border between France and Spain. The road to safety was a treacherous journey by train, by bicycle and on foot that stretched hundreds of miles across occupied France to the Pyrenees Mountains at the Spanish border. Armed with guile and spirit, the selfless civilian fighters of the Comet Line had risked their lives to create this underground railroad, and by this time in the war, they had saved hundreds of Americans, British, Australians and other Allied airmen. Led by an elegant young Belgian woman, Dédée de Jongh, the group included Jean-François Nothomb, an army veteran who became the group's leader after Dédée was captured; Micheline Dumont, code-named Lily, who wore bobby sox to appear as a teenage girl; and Florentino, the tough Basque guide who, when necessary, carried exhausted refugees on his back over the mountains to save them from the Nazis. All the while, the Gestapo and Luftwaffe police were on their trail. If caught, the airmen faced imprisonment, but their helpers would be tortured and killed. Based on interviews with the survivors and in-depth archival research, The Freedom Line 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 defenses.

30 review for The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II

  1. 5 out of 5

    cameron

    Wonderfully written and mostly new information for me. I ask myself, how would I measure up to these average people who risked their lives or were murdered to save downed Allied pilots escaping the Nazis in Brussels, and France through the mountains to a dangerous Spain? The determination and heroic feats of these women and men is what I want to understand.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom Behr)

    If you like World War II history, or just a compelling story, read this book!The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II[ This is meticulously-researched history that reads like a novel by Alan Furst or Ken Follett. Peter Eisner is an award-winning newspaper writer and editor with a wonderful gift for telling a grippingly suspenseful story. He brings both the characters and the settings dramatically to life, starting with the frantic chao If you like World War II history, or just a compelling story, read this book!The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II[ This is meticulously-researched history that reads like a novel by Alan Furst or Ken Follett. Peter Eisner is an award-winning newspaper writer and editor with a wonderful gift for telling a grippingly suspenseful story. He brings both the characters and the settings dramatically to life, starting with the frantic chaos of a B-17 crew under attack by German Fw 190s. “Head-on, a fighter was visible at the windshield, its guns looking like flashing semaphore as it fired directly at him.” I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it (late at night). The heart of the book is the real world account of the Comet Line: a group of Belgians who helped more than 770 allied pilots and crew escape the Gestapo and Luftwaffe police to reach safety in neutral Spain. What’s most remarkable about the story is that these were ordinary people who nevertheless accomplished extraordinary acts of courage. Years later, one of the group’s leaders, reflecting on those times said, “It was the natural thing, it was my job, the thing I should have done.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dita

    This is a great yarn and a fascinating read. What I do not get is why it has not been made into a movie. It would make a fine one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Hickman

    I am an avid fan of reading about heroes in a war fighting for freedom and all that. I really liked this book as it described behind the scene activities of those helping downed airmen of WWII. I had seen something on this same subject on PBS or the History Channel after reading this book and it actually mentioned some of the things in this books as fact. There awas also signs of this at the Wintson Churchill underground bunker museum in London as well. I really recommend this book for those wan I am an avid fan of reading about heroes in a war fighting for freedom and all that. I really liked this book as it described behind the scene activities of those helping downed airmen of WWII. I had seen something on this same subject on PBS or the History Channel after reading this book and it actually mentioned some of the things in this books as fact. There awas also signs of this at the Wintson Churchill underground bunker museum in London as well. I really recommend this book for those wanting to learn about the efforts that went into the French Undergroud in fighting for their freedom. It makes you very proud indeed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Very well researched and written; engaging; reads a bit like fiction. I would have liked to see photos of some of the main heroes of the rescue operation, as well as some detailed maps.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chuck Leonard

    I took interest in this book when I read a synopsis some months ago. One of my uncles had to bail out of a B-17 in WWII and ended up in "France or Belgium" … "never knew where we were" because the people who helped him get back to England "weren't going to tell us." Many of the experiences and stories in this well written, non-fiction account gave truth to what my cousins and I believed to be exaggerated tales from the good war. Eisner justifiably gives credit to the brave men and women who help I took interest in this book when I read a synopsis some months ago. One of my uncles had to bail out of a B-17 in WWII and ended up in "France or Belgium" … "never knew where we were" because the people who helped him get back to England "weren't going to tell us." Many of the experiences and stories in this well written, non-fiction account gave truth to what my cousins and I believed to be exaggerated tales from the good war. Eisner justifiably gives credit to the brave men and women who helped save American and British pilots at tremendous risk to their own lives. Not much attention is paid to the question of why they were so willing to risk all for people they didn't know, but it comes through that they were going to do whatever they felt they must to accelerate the end of German occupation. The book is one of the most exciting works of non-fiction I have read in a long time … I found myself at the end of a chapter wanting to continue toward the end because Eisner doesn't immediately let you know the fate of some of those operatives that were captured by the Gestapo. An excellent book... and a fun read... highly recommended

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    Who Needs Fictional Stories? I very much enjoyed this book. I came across it after reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. There is no need for fiction when you have books such as this one. The stories of these heroes and their bravery is captivating and inspiring.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Rutzou

    This is a gripping and exciting factual thriller about a time in history that called for courage and determination on the part of the Belgium, French and Basque people, as well as the young allied air crews they rescued from the hands of the Nazis in occupied western Europe during the dark days of World War 2. Their courage against overwhelming odds says something about the human spirit and makes you think that the only way the Nazis would have won would be if they killed them all. To me, this b This is a gripping and exciting factual thriller about a time in history that called for courage and determination on the part of the Belgium, French and Basque people, as well as the young allied air crews they rescued from the hands of the Nazis in occupied western Europe during the dark days of World War 2. Their courage against overwhelming odds says something about the human spirit and makes you think that the only way the Nazis would have won would be if they killed them all. To me, this book held my attention from start to finish and I read it from start to finish and didn't switch to read a few chapters of another book, which is my usual practice. At times the names and number of characters was confusing, although the author did explain how he tried to keep it simple and consistent for English speaking readers, but this is a very small criticism about what overall is a fascinating read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jane Thompson

    World War II Story An interesting book, this is supposed to be a nonfiction rendering of the Comet Line, a group of Belgians who help anded Allied airmen to escape the Nazis. It is written in the style of era novel and two timing mistakes made me suspicious but otherwise it seems accurate.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Heroic and heart wrenching.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Great true-life stories about people working in the Resistance to get Allies to safety. Such heroes!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    Good book to read about how the British and American fliers were rescued after parachuting in occupied territory during WW11.

  13. 5 out of 5

    DanielL

    I’ve known about the French Resistance, but I became more intrigued about them after reading the biography of Nancy Wake by Peter FitzSimons; which lead me to read The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II by Peter Eisner. The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II is the heroic and epic true story of a small group of Belgian, French, and Basque who rescued downed allied airme I’ve known about the French Resistance, but I became more intrigued about them after reading the biography of Nancy Wake by Peter FitzSimons; which lead me to read The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II by Peter Eisner. The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II is the heroic and epic true story of a small group of Belgian, French, and Basque who rescued downed allied airmen throughout western Europe. Their efforts were nothing short of remarkable and awe inspiring. The book is well-researched and reads like an action espionage war novel. I’ve read numerous books about WW2, but The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II was a revelation and an inspiration to me. Weeks after finishing the book, I still think about the heroism of the men and women of “The Comet Line” and what they accomplished under extreme physical duress and stress, the deadly risk to their lives and their families, the paranoia fear of traitors among them (i.e., double agents), and being constantly hunted by the Nazis. Those who were caught by the Nazis and survived being tortured and imprisoned in Nazi death camps must have suffered extreme PTSD after the war. For the most part, the men and women who organized the rescue of downed allied airmen were untrained civilians. As a uniformed military person under orders from a superior, there are duties and assumed risks during wartime, but not so for civilians. As non-combatant civilians, they had no duty to risk their lives to save down allied airmen. Nevertheless, they did so without compensation and at great risk to them and their families. I sometimes wonder if I would have had the courage to do the same things as they did. The one fact that The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II covered that I found especially interesting was the “neutrality” of Francisco Franco’s Spain and the distinctly unique Basque people. The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis During World War II gave me a better understanding and appreciation of the tragic history and the on-going struggles of the Basque.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    An interesting book about how the resistance created a group whose job was to find, protect, and transport airmen shot down in Germany, Belgium, and France over the mountains and then into the hands of the US Embassy in Spain where they could be returned to the war effort. These incredibly courageous men and women risked their lives, and the lives of their family and friends, every minute in order to save the lives of strangers. For a time they had little help from the Allies until they could co An interesting book about how the resistance created a group whose job was to find, protect, and transport airmen shot down in Germany, Belgium, and France over the mountains and then into the hands of the US Embassy in Spain where they could be returned to the war effort. These incredibly courageous men and women risked their lives, and the lives of their family and friends, every minute in order to save the lives of strangers. For a time they had little help from the Allies until they could convince the US Ambassador in Spain to contact England and request money and food to help them help the Allies. My one objection to the book is that there were no notes on how much and what kind of research the author did, who he interviewed, when, what they said that he put in the book, how much research he added from other sources, etc. I'm one of those people who actually reads the notes in a book, and that kind of laziness makes me doubt some of the things reported.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Helaine

    Highly recommend this book if you missed that part of WWII about the Belgium, Dutch, French, Basque, and Spanish people who put their lives on the line to rescue downed Allied pilots and get them to Gibraltar so they could be flown to London. One such Freedom line was the Comet Line which ran from Belgium to Paris to Southern France and over the Pyrenees to Spain. This book explores the people who made up this line and provided the documents, clothes, safe houses, transportation and guides to br Highly recommend this book if you missed that part of WWII about the Belgium, Dutch, French, Basque, and Spanish people who put their lives on the line to rescue downed Allied pilots and get them to Gibraltar so they could be flown to London. One such Freedom line was the Comet Line which ran from Belgium to Paris to Southern France and over the Pyrenees to Spain. This book explores the people who made up this line and provided the documents, clothes, safe houses, transportation and guides to bring these pilots, predominantly Americans, to safety. I was disappointed that the US government did not match the honors bestowed by other European countries on these folks, many who were killed by the Nazi's for these efforts.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sheri S.

    A friend gave me this book along with The Nightingale (fiction) and Little Cyclone (nonfiction), so I feel like I have a good understanding of the Comet Line. I appreciated how this book focused on the Comet Line as a whole but provided some story lines about interesting figures such as Franco and the pilot Bob Grimes. The book was suspenseful and, at times, I didn't want to put it down. I admire the characters in the story and appreciate how they changed history. I know many of them would not c A friend gave me this book along with The Nightingale (fiction) and Little Cyclone (nonfiction), so I feel like I have a good understanding of the Comet Line. I appreciated how this book focused on the Comet Line as a whole but provided some story lines about interesting figures such as Franco and the pilot Bob Grimes. The book was suspenseful and, at times, I didn't want to put it down. I admire the characters in the story and appreciate how they changed history. I know many of them would not consider themselves heroes, but anyone who puts their own life at risk to save others is truly a hero to me! (Many thanks also to the author for making sure that others know about these heroes and their brave and courageous acts.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Charol A. Karnick

    The Bravest Of The Brave Reading about soldiers who enter a war not knowing if they will return or what circumstances they will be put in always makes me so grateful to them. What a sacrifice they make for their country and those of us who are comfortable at home. God Bless Them All. I like to read about these brave men and women. And also the brave men and women who volunteered to help these soldiers after their planes crashed so they wouldn't end up in prison camps to be persecuted or shot by t The Bravest Of The Brave Reading about soldiers who enter a war not knowing if they will return or what circumstances they will be put in always makes me so grateful to them. What a sacrifice they make for their country and those of us who are comfortable at home. God Bless Them All. I like to read about these brave men and women. And also the brave men and women who volunteered to help these soldiers after their planes crashed so they wouldn't end up in prison camps to be persecuted or shot by the enemy. A good read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maria Louise Schreffler

    What was The Comet Line? Very good read about people and events that most Americans know nothing about. Thousands of Allied airmen were shot down over Europe during WWII. This book describes the Belgian and Basque people who risked their lives helping airmen avoid capture and make it safely back to England. The Comet Line was more than an escape route through occupied Belgium and France - it was also the people who escorted and hid the Allied airmen along the way. Very well researched and written What was The Comet Line? Very good read about people and events that most Americans know nothing about. Thousands of Allied airmen were shot down over Europe during WWII. This book describes the Belgian and Basque people who risked their lives helping airmen avoid capture and make it safely back to England. The Comet Line was more than an escape route through occupied Belgium and France - it was also the people who escorted and hid the Allied airmen along the way. Very well researched and written account. Highly recommend!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    What an amazing story! One of my favorite novels, The Nightingale, is based on these little-known events. This book took me way longer than I wanted. At times I had to fight to get through it. I found the writing distracted me at times - many passive sentences, some very basic sentence structure repeatedly used, and some bulky cumbersome sentences. But in the second half of the book, the story picked up and the writing didn't distract me as much. While the author doesn't win a prize in my book f What an amazing story! One of my favorite novels, The Nightingale, is based on these little-known events. This book took me way longer than I wanted. At times I had to fight to get through it. I found the writing distracted me at times - many passive sentences, some very basic sentence structure repeatedly used, and some bulky cumbersome sentences. But in the second half of the book, the story picked up and the writing didn't distract me as much. While the author doesn't win a prize in my book for his command of the English language, the story is worth the read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil Ellenberger

    Outstandingly interestinnu This is amos t interesting read of a fascinating and little known facet of world war two I wasn't in that was but did love at that time. Hoever,at certain periods of my life I have been subject to the kind of exhaustion and futilility described in portions of this book. The writing is to be praised as some of the most realistic about those feelings I have ever read. It was truly as if I was going through them again. The other wrong was almost as good. You should read it Outstandingly interestinnu This is amos t interesting read of a fascinating and little known facet of world war two I wasn't in that was but did love at that time. Hoever,at certain periods of my life I have been subject to the kind of exhaustion and futilility described in portions of this book. The writing is to be praised as some of the most realistic about those feelings I have ever read. It was truly as if I was going through them again. The other wrong was almost as good. You should read it for those reasons as well as for an insight into the vagaries of any war.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    You’ll be glad you read this book. There’s no need to fictionalize the bottomless bravery of the women and men depicted in this book. The author provides just the right amount of detail and background about each of the characters and their motivations for their actions. The pacing is mostly brisk with the occasional dip into the history behind the history. I appreciated learning about the history of the Basque people and their perspective on WW II. It added a fascinating dimension to the story.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    This is a fascinating story and I want to thank a Goodreads reader who pointed out that the book exists! I had not heard the story of the incredibly courageous people of Northern Spain who led the downed British and American airmen across the Pyrenees. The French, Belgian and Basque resistance fighters were amazingly brave. Eisner has interviewed survivors and done a lot of research in archives and he has written a vivid account that brings these brave people to life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Evans

    I agree with another reviewer who said this would make a great movie. I also cannot overstate the debt of gratitude owed to the men & women who put themselves in the path of torture, imprisonment & death in order to oppose the fascist regime of Adolph Hitler. Their determination, courage & perseverance is unrivaled. Most of the people mentioned in the book are now deceased. I hope they are resting peacefully.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Seldom, if ever, do I voluntarily read nonfiction. I tracked this book down to read about Dédée DeJonghe, who was the inspiration for “The Nightengale.” I found this to be a very well written and suspenseful account of the Belgian, Basque, and French resistance workers who helped downed airmen escape occupied France in WWII.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Fischer

    Excellent part of history I knew little about. Everyday patriots in occupied Europe doing what they could to secretly help allied pilots who went down in their countries. Author meets with several survivors before book was printed. The way he wrote about his research and findings is gripping and hard to put down. Highly recommend.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This is a good yarn about some very brave men and women who risked their lives and those of their families to spirit downed Allied airmen out of France and Belgium to Spain and then Gibraltar. Great read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert Willard

    A history of great bravery and selflessness in the face of extreme evil This story totally captivated me, as a devotee of WWII history. A story about the few who, very aware of the deadly conesequences they faced, gave their all to defeat Hitler and to win the war.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cheri Branham

    Easy read I had not heard of the Comet line stories before now. The men and women who ricks their lives to help pilots back to safety are the real heroes. I highly recommend this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Clayton

    I read this book over Memorial Day weekend which seemed so fitting. This book was hard for me to put down. I learned so much and felt a huge sense of awe and gratitude for those who helped fight the nazi cause.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Really really good. Makes me want to thank so many of them for their sacrifices on behalf of others. Freedom prevails in the face of oppression and evil.

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