Book Review: The Druggist of Auschwitz by Dieter Schlesak

Title: The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel
Author: Dieter Schlesak
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250002372
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Druggist of Auschwitz is the title of this book, and for most the title is enough to either want you to read this book or stay away from it. For me it was the former. I had to read it. I have been interested in the Holocaust since forever now and that is only to understand how human nature works. The violence it is capable of and sometimes what lengths it can go to.

The author Dieter Schlesak was only 10 years old when the Russians invaded his town of Sighisoara in German Transylvania (now Rumania) in August 1944, and since then he has been trying to understand the Holocaust and how it happened ever since. The Druggist of Auschwitz is an attempt at that – to create something monumental about the possible paralyzing horror that occurred – and in this book Schlesak does a brilliant job by providing both sides of the story, that of the victim and that of the perpetrator.

On one hand in the book, you have the Jew who is safe from the horrors, a collective narrator, called, “Adam Salmen” – who is the Sondercommando of the Jewish “Special Action Squad” under the German Rule. His job is to report on the deaths in the gas chambers and tally them against the list and the cremation ovens. In his spare time, he maintains a diary describing the horrors and his state of mind and emotions.

The other side of the story is of Viktor Capesius, formerly a pharmacist in Sighisoara, whom the author knew personally. He was in charge of the SS dispensary and had control over Zyklon B that was used in the gas chambers. He also participated in the selection process of spring of 1944 of choosing who was fit to work and who wasn’t, and would ultimately meet their death. Capesius did a lot in his role – from stealing money from the Jews and stripping them to their very last valuable to converting their gold teeth to gold for his personal benefit, this book says it all. It also tells the reader of how the pharmacist met his end.

The author uses the druggist as the central voice in the book for exploring the horrors of Auschwitz. There is only a thin fictional gloss to the entire book. Otherwise all of it is true and real and maybe that is what makes it what it is. The Druggist of Auschwitz uses a new way of chronicling the lives of individuals who participated in the world’s greatest horror. The victim’s nature and role and the torturer’s aspect are clearly laid out. The writing is not easy. There will be times when the reader will be tempted to shut the book and not read further. At the same time, the writing style is hypnotic and totally worth a read. The amazing combination of fact and fiction makes it up for everything that you have read earlier about the Holocaust. I would highly recommend this one.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Druggist of Auschwitz by Dieter Schlesak

  1. golanskistreasures

    Writing about the Holocaust is difficult . . . I know. I have just completed a manuscript I’ve been working on for 12 years. (Now for the rewrites.) By taking real events documented by real people from real places and rolling them into the fictionalized life of a character is not only challenging, but transformative. I feel for any author undertaking a similar journey, for it is to enter a world of horror and pervasive grief that is sometimes too much to bear. However, those of us who choose to do so go into the experience knowing that as the generation of living witnesses to the Holocaust die – we must somehow pick up the baton and extend their experiences through works we will create. Otherwise, the chance of future madmen saying the Holocaust was a hoax will once again be attempted – without witnesses (living, or voiced through us) to stand against such blatant denials. To say I look forward to reading this book would be a misstatement, for I know it is a slippery road to walk. Yet, a necessary road, owed to those who perished. Never Again must continue to be our cry – thanks for calling this book to my attention. While my own work will not be coming out until (probably) next year, I have composed a blot to explore many Holocaust-related discussions you may wish to check out. GOLANSKI’S TREASURES will attempt to go beyond looking at the Holocaust as a horrific event in history based upon the sheer numbers murdered, the terrible means employed, and the hatred that drove it. It is my belief that by knowing more about the rich Eastern European Jewish culture that existed before WWII, its annihilation will become all that more terrible. Thus – I invite you to join the journey to a new book currently “in the works” that presents the Holocaust without whitewashing it, yet dwells within the world of what was lost and allows the reconnection to the beauty and vitality of the past. Thanks for the heads-up on this book. Hope mine won’t disappoint!


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