‘A Meal in Winter’ by Hubert Mingarelli – A Provocative Novel of World War II

 

‘A Meal in Winter’ by Hubert Mingarelli (2012) – 138 pages Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Why do people read Holocaust literature when there are so many more pleasant things to read about? Because some of us want to face the worst there is in human beings, the bottom dregs of atrocious human behavior and perhaps somehow deal with it. It is just not possible to sweep the deaths of over six million people under the carpet and pretend it never happened.

In ‘A Meal in Winter’ three German soldiers who are in Poland are sent out on a harsh cold day in winter to hunt for Jewish people who are hiding and to bring any that they find back to their camp. They specifically requested this mission of their base commander because otherwise they would have had to stay in camp and shoot the Jewish people who were already captured.

We explained to him that we would rather do the hunting than the shootings. We told him we didn’t like the shootings; that doing it made us feel bad at the time and gave us bad dreams at night. When we woke in the morning, we felt down as soon as we start thinking about it, and if it went on like this, soon we wouldn’t be able to stand it at all – and if it ended up making us ill, we’d be no use to anybody. We would not have spoken like this, so openly and frankly to another commander. He was a reservist like we were , and he slept on a camp bed too. But the killings had aged him more than they had us.”

They do capture one Jewish person who is hiding in the woods. One of the soldiers notices an embroidered star on the winter hat that the Jew is wearing.

Because if you want to know what it is that tormented me, and that torments me to this day, it’s seeing that kind of thing on the clothes of the Jews we’re going to kill: a piece of embroidery, coloured buttons, a ribbon in the hair. I was always pierced by those thoughtful maternal displays of tenderness.”

Then to pass the rest of the day they go into an abandoned house of which there were many in Poland during the German occupation. The three soldiers will spend the rest of the day in the house since they have done their duty already by capturing a Jew. They lock up the Jew in the pantry and then start a fire in the furnace of this bitterly cold house by breaking up some of the furniture.

They decide to prepare a makeshift meal with whatever food they can come up with. Another Polish guy shows up at the house as they are preparing this meal. In order to get enough fire to heat the meal properly they must burn more and more of the furniture.

This novel is a strong attempt to watch this atrocity from the viewpoint of the perpetrators. Some of the perpetrators were gung-ho with the German high command; others may have been only reluctantly following orders.

This is a simple but moving story.

 

Grade:   A

 

7 responses to this post.

  1. Intrigued by this, but wary of the Holocaust being misused in fiction, I searched for other reviews, and found myself led to a review of Martin Ami’s The Zone of Interest at the New Yorker. The Amis book is apparently a satire, and I don’t like the sound of it at all, but A Meal in Winter sounds as if it’s in the same vein as A Soldier’s Tale by M K Joseph, nothing to do with the Holocaust but about the moral dilemma a soldier faces, about the ethics of individual conduct than with warfare itself. (I reviewed it here, if you’re interested https://anzlitlovers.com/2012/02/07/a-soldiers-tale-by-m-k-joseph/)

    It makes me wonder, where are the novels about the ethics of conduct in our modern wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. Maybe it takes the passage of time before these things can be confronted.

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I do believe that ‘A Meal in Winter’ could be considered a Holocaust novel because a large part of the Holocaust did not occur in concentration camps, but instead in situations similar to that in ‘A Meal in Winter’ where German or German allied soldiers rounded up the Jewish people they found and killed them immediately.

      I did read your review of ‘A Soldier’s Tale’ and am not sure a Nazi collaborator should be depicted on as a heroine in a novel, but it’s similar to ‘A Meal in Winter’ where the Nazi soldiers are the main protagonists. I guess we are at the point where we must deal with the Nazis as fellow human beings rather than as just human monsters.

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  2. I read this book recently too, and found it superb. The moral dilemmas were illustrated brilliantly in MIngarelli’s concise text.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. […] This novella has been widely reviewed and was nominated for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, but I am indebted to Tony from Tony’s Book World for his recommendation. […]

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