Dieter Schlesak; Translated from the German by John Hargraves
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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.
“Like the novels of W.G. Sebald . . . [The Druggist of Auschwitz] will fill you with despair and rage and terrible shame at the infinite ingenuity of human cruelty. By steeling himself not to flinch before the hideous reality of the Holocaust, Schlesak has created a beautiful book.” —David Laskin, The Seattle Time
“That Dieter Schlesak could write this novel in what Adam calls the executioner’s language serves as some small triumph. That he could look at all of this with a clear eye and help the reader to do the same is a major triumph.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR
“A great book that hits you like a fist . . . An unforgettable tapestry of evil . . . [The Druggist of Auschwitz] shows that, as Melville said, the truth is more unthinkable than fiction.” —Claudio Magris, Corriere della Sera (Italy)
“Retracing the story of Dr. Capesius, in which appear other infamous figures—such as Josef Mengele, the ‘Angel of Death’; Fritz Klein, the ‘Assassin for Good’; and the camp commandant, Rudolf Höß—Schlesak reconstructs the terrifying history of Auschwitz: the trauma of arrival, the torture of the prisoners, the horror of the gassings and cremations. Schlesak writes with a dry style, almost with the distance of a reporter, giving us a powerful testimony on the banality of evil. The Druggist of Auschwitz is a book which confirms that sometimes the truth is more unimaginable than the most horrible fantasy.” —Gaetano Vallini, L’Osservatore Romano (Vatican City)
“Dieter Schlesak not only has created a shattering work of great literary power and authenticity . . . but also sheds light on the relationship between perpetrators and their victims.” —Claus Stephani, David: Jüdische Kulturzeitschrift (Austria)