Title: The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel
Author: Dieter Schlesak
Publisher: Picador USA
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction
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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