Dieter Schlesak's haunting novel The Druggist of Auschwitz—beautifully translated from the German by John Hargraves—is a frighteningly vivid portrayal of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of criminal and victim alike.
Adam, known as "the last Jew of Schäßburg," recounts with disturbing clarity his imprisonment at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Through Adam's fictional narrative and excerpts of actual testimony from the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial of 1963–65, we come to learn of the true-life story of Dr. Victor Capesius, who, despite strong friendships with Jews before the war, quickly aided in and profited from their tragedy once the Nazis came to power. Interspersed with historical research and the author's face-to-face interviews with survivors, the novel follows Capesius from his assignment as the "sorter" of new arrivals at Auschwitz—deciding who will go directly to the gas chamber and who will be used for labor—through his life of lavish wealth after the war to his arrest and eventual trial.
Schlesak's seamless incorporation of factual data and testimony—woven into Adam's dreamlike remembrance of a world turned upside down—makes The Druggist of Auschwitz a vital and unique addition to our understanding of the Holocaust.
Schlesak, in his first book in English translation, is interested in documentation, here achieved through a collage of facts and firsthand narratives of the Holocaust by victims and perpetrators alike. Centering the narrative around the 1964 Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt of Victor Capesius, the director of the Auschwitz medical dispensary, who methodically enriched himself with assets stolen from those arriving on the Hungarian transports, Schlesak contrasts the suffering of the camp survivors with the apparently conscience-free lives of those who were "obeying orders." He interviews Roland Albert, an Auschwitz guard and his mother's favorite cousin, who Schlesak knew as a young boy in Germany, and who seems to feel no real sense of responsibility for the Holocaust. To understand the survivors, Schlesak, as author-narrator, talks with Adam Salmen, the so-called "last Jew of Sch ssburg," whose camp diary is excerpted to heartrending effect as are his struggles with survivor guilt: "And even if you have gotten out, you never really escape..." The way testimony is collected and presented, without real narrative intervention, lends immediacy and veracity, but also feels less novelistic. Schlesak's work is relentless, sometimes too painful to read, testament to the fact that, in describing Auschwitz, no literary consolation is possible.
The Druggist of Auschwitz
A stunning book with horrifying descriptions of what occurred at Auschwitz. Hard to read and impossible to put down.