30 September, 2020

When The Devil Wore Feldgrau

English fiction makes a rare rendezvous with the eastern front in WWII. This journey through a corner of occupied Ukraine is a harrowing one.

When The Devil Wore Feldgrau

In all of modern history, Ukraine and Belarus, between July 1941 and July 1944, would have been the worst pla­­ces to be in. In those years, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union reached a level of barbarisation that is still unequalled. Red army stragglers were shot, so were hundreds suspected of any ‘Bolshevik’ sympathy. Towns and villages were stripped of food, anything other than base prostration res­ulted in villages set afire, their populations scattered to the wind. Fear and hunger stalked the land. But the Jews were chosen people; a special fate awa­ited them. Rachel Seiffert’s A Boy in Winter details a few days in November 1941 in a small German-occupied Ukra­inian town as it is paid a visit by a SS detachment. Through a cinematic dep­l­oyment of perspectives of her characters, Seiffert cracks open motives, emotions and states of being.

The novel opens with the town’s old sch­­­­oolmaster and his ancient mother (her “cheeks wrinkled like winter apples”) being chased...



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