As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s hateful agenda brings about unspeakable atrocities, they find themselves with innocent blood on their hands.
Following Germany’s eventual defeat, Karl and Gerhard are haunted by their insurmountable guilt, and each seeks a way to escape from wounds that will never heal. They survived the war and its revelation of systematic horrors, but can they survive the unshakable knowledge of their own culpability?
Review: Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold was originally published in Danish in 2014 as Vintermænd, and is rendered into English by by K.E. Semmel, who has done a tremendously fine work of it. This is an extremely well-written novel, albeit a searing one, which will tug at the conscience of readers as it takes a hard look at the moral quandaries facing the people of Germany as the winds of change swept across the country during the World War II. The novel is forthright and honest in its exploration of the subject while at the same time draws the reader into the story through its magnificent and stunning portrayal of the era and the people, alternating between scenes of life in Hamburg and those in the war fronts and the concentration camps.
Author Jesper Bugge Kold’s thoughtful, grim and brooding novel explores the lives of two brothers who were caught up in the vortex of violence that swept the country as the Nazi propaganda was unleashed. The brothers are Karl and Gerhard, who lives in Hamburg. Both of them are well-educated, and quite affluent and respectable members of the society. Karl is the director of a textile factory while Gerhard teaches mathematics at the university. The brothers are not Nazi sympathizers yet the quirk turn of fate so destined them that they were ultimately absorbed as members of the SS. While others were not so lucky, Gerhard was handed the choice to either join the Gestapo or be one among the teeming nameless people working for survival in one of the concentration camps. As fate would have it, instead of being an inmate Gerhard rose to become the commandant of a concentration camp.
Some may consider this well-researched work as an attempt to exonerate many people who worked for the Nazi in the run-up to and during the course of the Second World War. While this assumption may be a little far-fetched, author Jesper Bugge Kold’s Winter Men is an examination of the ethical and moral predicaments in which many Germans would have found themselves during this period. Karl and Gerhard enrolled their services in the SS not because they were ideologically drawn to it, but it was a pragmatic decision based on the idea of surviving and thriving than not at all. But their decision, whether good or bad, had its irreparable effect. They become tools, with bloods on their hands. The end of the war was the beginning of their travails, leading to a sad end for both. And what begs an answer is the reasonable question: What would you have done if you were in their shoes?
About the Author: Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1972, Winter Men is Jesper Bugge Kold's first novel. It was published in Denmark in August 2014, and the same year it was nominated to the prestigious Debutant's Prize at BogForum.
Jesper Bugge Kold grew up in Copenhagen and has a bachelor's degree from the Library School and a master's degree from the University of Information Technology. Later, working as a sports journalist on several Danish TV-channels, he was editor on the national coverage of NFL. In 2009 he and his family moved to the countryside where he found time to start writing.
Based on an enormous amount of research, Jesper Bugge Kold has been in contact with former concentration camps, historians, and museums during the writing of Winter Men.