ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
There's a new book out about another man who long ago stood trial for his actions at a Nazi death camp. Reviewer Alan Cheuse says the novel, by a German-Romanian poet named Dieter Schlesak, is among the most powerful he's read. It's called "The Druggist of Auschwitz."
ALAN CHEUSE: Schlesak calls his book a documentary novel because he uses interviews with actual concentration camp survivors and real letters and camp records. Most importantly, he builds in to the work the proceedings of a trial that took place in Germany in the 1960s.
A pharmacist from Transylvania named Victor Capesius served as one of the overseers of the final selection at Auschwitz. While Capesius was freed after a brief internment following the war, a survivor later identified him as a camp officer.
He was arrested and tried in Frankfurt for his crimes against humanity, as a criminal as ruthless in his ordinariness as Adolph Eichmann, whose plans for the destruction of all the Jews in Hungary he aided.
Schlesak uses as his main narrator an actual survivor named Adam, one of the Jewish prisoners. He recounts with mounting horror stories about the victims whose demise he witnessed, from first to last.
Despite the muted tone of the documentary style - no melodrama, just the facts of how the camp worked, how people struggled, how they died and how the officers and guards lived - I guess it was about 40 pages in that I set the book down, unable to take much more of its horrors.
Adam, our first man, describes the events at Auschwitz as the greatest breakdown of civilization in human history. And it was almost more than I could bear to read about. But then I picked it up again and went on reading all the way through to the enormous cascade of depravity and murder at the end.
I, of course, read this translation by John Hargraves(ph). That Dieter Schlesak could write this novel in what Adam calls the executioner's language serves as some small triumph. That he could look all of this with a clear eye and help the reader to do the same is a major triumph.
SIEGEL: The book is "The Druggist of Auschwitz." Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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