THE MAIDEN AND THE JEW by Christiane Kohl


The Story of a Fatal Friendship in Nazi Germany
by & translated by
Email this review


A tale of foul and petty mistrust, nastiness, corruption, and careerism that led to a man’s beheading and the incarceration of his charge, during the Nazi Nuremberg years.

A young German woman moved to Nuremberg in 1932. She was a bit of a free spirit, with a “somewhat impertinent sounding Brandenburg accent and the cheeky hats she wore imparted an exciting, exotic flair.” Irene Scheffler’s father had asked his friend Leo Katzenberger, a well-to-do Nuremberger in the shoe business, to look after her. He did just so: finding her an inexpensive apartment in one of his buildings, helping with her fledgling photography business, bestowing small treats and shoes from his warehouse. Such attention toward Scheffler “soon ran afoul of the several of the tenants’ sacred laws. She interfered with their need for order and unleashed feelings of envy.” It didn’t help that Katzenberger was a wealthy Jew living in a city experiencing economic difficulties and enrapt in Nazi propaganda. There is no evidence that Katzenberger and Scheffler had more than a platonic relationship, but their neighbors’ rumors blossomed into charges, from breaking purity laws to taking advantage of wartime circumstances to dally. Katzenberger was beheaded; Irene, for consorting with a Jew, was imprisoned. Der Spiegel editor Kohl does a fine and fierce job of letting this story unfold, complete with evil characters, from Julius Streicher (Nuremberg Nazi poo-bah) to the sentencing judge to venal informers and stalwart friends who tried to rid Katzenberger and Scheffler of their naïveté. Nuremberg was a hotbed of Nazi activity and ideology, and Kohl pulls that history ineluctably to its finish. She tells of the spat between Streicher and Hermann Goering, of the “Aryanization” laws that robbed the Jewish population of its property and livelihood, and the endless trail of dirty works that led to a good man’s guillotining.

A story of hallucinatory grotesqueness told in an appalled voice that separates fact from rumor and grows rightfully angrier until the very bitter end. (8 pp. b&w photographs)

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 2004
ISBN: 1-58642-070-4
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004