cover image The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel

The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel

Dieter Schlesak, trans. from the German by John Hargraves, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-14406-7

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 Schässburg," 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. (Apr.)