Winter Men – Jesper Bugge Kold

This is another of my 99p Kindle Daily Deal purchases and one that at first I regretted buying.

I started reading the book at least 3 times and then set it aside wondering what had induced me to read it.

It seemed to be about a former Nazi who had escaped to somewhere in South America, grown old and then died.  But it seemed to be being told by someone who didn’t know him other than by watching the man go about his daily routine.

Typically, I got into the book when it was just about all that was available to read on a flight.  Once I got beyond the beginning, at the end of the life of one of the main characters, the real story began.

It is the story of the Strangl family from Hamburg.  The main characters are Karl, Gerhard and August.  Karl and Gerhard are brothers and August is Karl’s son. At the beginning of the book Karl is running the family clothing business and trying to accommodate the Nazis to win contracts from them.  Gerhard is a mathematics Professor at the university and a published author of a mathematics book.  August is an introverted child ill at ease within a society that values macho-military skills.

Via different routes both Karl and Gerhard end up working for the SS and August ends up in the army.  Karl ends up on the Eastern Front managing a supply chain.  August is also in Russia and a very frightened, inept soldier.  Gerhard ends up managing the logistics of moving Jews to Concentration Camps and then working in a Camp.

Gerhard is the only one to survive and he is the man who escapes to South America, the character at the beginning of the book.

I think overall the book is inconsistent.  Some parts are absorbing and interesting whilst others you read simply to get through to the next interesting bit.  I’m pleased I read it although I probably won’t seek out another book by this author.

The bit that lingers with me is the recognition that all of these characters were complicit in the evils perpetrated by the Nazi regime but they are not monsters.  They are “normal” people sucked into doing extraordinary, dreadful things.  It’s chilling to read how easily it might happen.

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