It’s October 1939, and Josef Kalteis, “an ethnic German, an Aryan, and in addition a member of the National Socialist Workers’ Party,” has confessed to atrocities not even the Reich wants on its hands. His death warrant declares, “Noxious parasites on this nation, like this man, ice cold in his crimes as in his very name, must therefore be removed from it.”
In Ice Cold, Schenkel lays out narrative with the cool authority of a Vegas blackjack dealer. Snap: Memorandum. Scene. Interrogation. Police report. Snap: First person. Third. Present tense. Past. But make no mistake, Schenkel’s a shark. Having stacked the deck, she keeps you at the table by holding the ace until the very last hand.
It’s rarely springtime in this chronicle of Germany from 1931 to 1939, and from the moment young Kathie Hertl steps off the train in Munich, the reader feels the chill. Kathie’s search for a job takes her nowhere, and her search for a warm place to sleep takes her to Soller’s Inn, where, like the other women she meets, she searches for a “fiancé” who will put a roof over her head. As she moves from man to man, losing sight of her dream of making a life in Munich, she recalls the warmth of her girlhood summers and knows that “they would always be the best summers of her entire life.”
Into Kathie’s wanderings Schenkel splices police reports, first-person interviews, and third-person accounts of other German women and girls, as well as excerpts of police interviews with both Kalteis and his wife, Walburga. Time is nimble, and narrators often go unnamed. But the close reader is rewarded with story: tragedy unencumbered with sentiment, and brutality served up cold as ice.