‘A Boy in Winter’ by Rachel Seiffert – A Brutal Nazi Atrocity in Ukraine During World War II


‘A Boy in Winter’ by Rachel Seiffert  (2017) – 242 pages

In Rachel Seiffert’s incisive new novel ‘A Boy in Winter’, Otto Pohl is a German engineer who considers the Nazis’ brutal war across Europe as criminal.  To avoid being complicit in the Nazis’ crimes, Pohl signs up to lead a road-building team in the Ukraine.  Originally he thinks he might be doing a positive thing, building a new road “for when the war is over, for when Hitler loses as he surely must”, but he comes to realize the evil purpose for which the Nazis will use the road.    He witnesses the Nazi SS storm through a small Ukrainian village and then round up all the town’s Jewish people herding them into an old brick factory.  Pohl then understands the truth about these SS Nazis.

“They do not think on a human scale. They do not think they deal with humans.”

At one point Pohl is given an opportunity to select workers for his team from among the imprisoned Jews.  He see only “shopkeepers and clerks, schoolteachers; respectable and indoor people in suits and spectacles”.  He sees that these people are clearly unsuited for the arduous work of roadbuilding, so he selects none of them.  Only after does he realize that he could have saved a few from a horrible death.

Later he witnesses the mass murder of hundreds of Jewish men, women, and children by the Nazis.  The estimate is that the Nazis killed close to a million Jewish people in Ukraine alone.

Rachel Seiffert has mentioned that the character of Otto Pohl is based on a real person, Willi Ahren, who hoped to avoid complicity in Nazi atrocities by transferring to the road construction corps.  Seiffert herself is the granddaughter of a Nazi doctor in the SS.  She regards her grandfather’s conduct “with a lot of sadness”.

“It’s very sobering because he’s a person to me and it’s people who do this. I can’t externalise it. I can’t say it happened over there and it was done by other people. It was very close to home. It means I’m very much aware of human capacity for that kind of cruelty. World War II is unfinished business for me.  I think it always will be.” – Rachel Seiffert

It is crucial for people to continue to confront the Nazi atrocities during World War II because otherwise the atrocities are bound to be repeated.  ‘A Boy in Winter’ would make a great movie just as Seiffert’s previous novel ‘The Dark Room’ was turned into the movie ‘Lore’.


Grade :   A



5 responses to this post.

  1. You’re quite right – we can’t ever turn away from these events because they show just what the human race was (and is still) capable of. 😦

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi kaggsy,
      Many of my ancestors are Germans who came to the United States in the 19th century, but I still feel guilt about the Holocaust, and, yes, the human race is still capable of this terrible behavior.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. One to add to my wish list. If I remember correctly Seiffert is half Australian, half German.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Kim,
      I didn’t know about the Australian connection, but you are right as usual. The first lines of her Wiki biography read: “She was born in 1971 in Oxford to German and Australian parents, and was brought up bilingually. She currently lives in London.”

      Liked by 1 person


  3. […] A Book You Heard About Online: And that would be most of them, thank you to all by book-blogging friends without whom my reading would be much less interesting.  (You know who you are!) But I’ll choose the most recent, which was A Boy in Winter by Rachel Sieffert, thank you to Tony from Tony’s Book World.  […]



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