Dieter Schlesak The Druggist of Auschwitz

ISBN 13: 9781250002372

The Druggist of Auschwitz

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9781250002372: The Druggist of Auschwitz
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The Druggist of Auschwitz is a frighteningly vivid portrayal of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of criminal and victim alike. Adam, "the last Jew of Schäßburg," recounts with disturbing clarity his imprisonment at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Through his fictional narrative and excerpts of actual testimony at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial of 1963--1965, we come to learn the true-life story of Dr. Victor Capesius, who, despite strong friendships with Jews, was quick to profit from their tragedy once the Nazis came to power. Interspersed with historical research and interviews with actual survivors, The Druggist of Auschwitz is a vital and unique addition to our understanding of the Holocaust.

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About the Author:

Dieter Schlesak is a German-Romanian poet, novelist, and essayist. He is a member of the German PEN Center and the PEN Centre of German-Speaking Writers Abroad, and has received scholarships and awards from numerous organizations, including the Schiller Foundation and the University of Bucharest. Schlesak was born in Transylvania in 1934 and has lived in Italy and Germany since 1973.

John Hargraves has taught German literature at Yale University and Connecticut College. He is the author of Music in the Works of Broch, Mann, and Kafka and has translated works by Hermann Broch and Elias Canetti, among others. His translation of Michael Krüger's novel The Executor was awarded the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. Hargraves lives in Manhattan and Connecticut.

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THE EYEWITNESS 1 They are herding us toward the showers. I see a long trench blazing with flames, I hear screams, children crying, dogs barking, gunshots. I see leaping shadows, half hidden behind the high flames. Smoke, ash, and the smell of burnt hair and flesh fill the air. “This cannot be true,” cries someone near me. Women, children, and invalids are chased, alive, into the flames by German shepherds. A wave of heat, then shots. A wheelchair carrying an old man plunges into the flames; a shrill cry. Small babies, white as lilies, trace an arc through the air as they are catapulted into the fire. A boy runs for his life, the dogs chasing him; he is pushed into the flames. His scream hangs in the air. A mother nurses her child at her naked breast. She and the baby fall into the inferno. One swallow of mother’s milk, for eternity. Adam saw it, Adam knows it, he knows something we do not know, something we will never know. But he survived it. Even he doesn’t know what the dead know. He feels the guilt of the survivor. Writing helped him survive. He wrote there, and he wrote in German. Adam: I am a German; it was they who made me a Jew. German is my mother tongue. When I couldn’t go on, when it became so unbearable that all I wanted to do was to jump into the fire with my fellow sufferers, into that pit of burning human beings, then I gave it all to German, my mother tongue, as if only she could heal this, she alone. Here, read it: I cannot forget. And he handed me one of his pages, covered with tiny script. But life must go on, he continued. And stared straight ahead. When he enters the room, you feel only him, he fills up the room, the whole house; his presence changes the space around us. No one speaks, everyone is silent, when he enters the room. This is Adam, who was there, a member of the crematorium Sonderkommando, a man who has something within him we cannot comprehend: Adam is alive, he exists, really. I could look him in the eye, touch him, eat and walk and talk with him, feel his silences, his descent into himself, his way of being there and yet not ... not there, like being dead, and yet still living ... at those trenches ... back then. Then? But they are here, now, they will never go away ...
 
 Adam: Then suddenly—I never felt anything like it before, how can I even describe it?—I separated from my conscious self and changed over to the “other” side; I felt a strange sympathy with that SS man performing his difficult, murderous work in that almost unbearable heat ... We looked at each other: this, THIS, it cannot, it must not, be happening. But it is! It’s real! So Adam, the last Jew of Schäßburg, wrote. I had visited him at his home, and now, after leaving him, it felt like a final farewell, because he is old and sick. But I can still call him on the telephone, twice a week, and there are numerous letters, actual letters, and he gave me his diary, his “little rolls,” just copies, of course; and even though his head is like a death’s-head, with black, deep-set eyes, I can still reach him. His heart is damaged, and his broken bones never healed properly; they still ache from the icy winters in the camp (down to minus 37 Celsius), painful rheumatism, pneumothorax, and he has only one lung left (tuberculosis has calcified the other one), but he is alive, not dead like all his friends, his wife, his children, his parents; Adam is alive NOW ...
 
 He embraces his dead wife every day, he says. And there is something that permeates everything, gets into the earth or the floor, the flowers, the grass, the trees, the light gets grayer, still this deep-seated fear, it hollows out everything from inside, this fear: Adam: There are black beasts inside me, I hear their harsh, malicious laughter whenever it is quiet. Grim animals sitting in my rib cage. They crouch there, ominous, their wings folded back, or they cower somewhere hidden in my innards, so I can no longer dare seek refuge inside myself. Something uncanny is there, in the darkness inside me. I seek shelter outside, beside myself with fear. When I take strong pills, the pills themselves settle briefly in the fragile tissues of my brain, and dream my nightmare, until I awake with a start, hunted, chased into another dream ... till suddenly it all dissolves, and then my arms turn black, and my wife who was turned into ashes THERE dissolves into grayness, the room, the walls crumble, not in glowing light, no, but into a gray nothingness, a dreary morning of ashes, everything crumbling into ashes, ashes ... Everything dissolves, the world now just a huge void, a gap ... and then I wake up, as I did every morning at four, with whistles shrieking, commands shouted: Get up, Aufstehen! Fertigmachen!! Get up, you swine, up! And I am back at the camp, as always. And then I know everything else was just a dream, a kind of holiday. All that matters are the people we know and once knew, the living and the dead. And we speak for the dead. We live for them. Perhaps they have opened up a way for us to reenter that realm, a realm whose forgetting made these crimes possible in the first place. They are the only reality left. Those who know it, those who were part of it. For me, everything else is gone.Adam’s experiences cannot be told in words: It’s like that for us all, Adam says, we who went through it, we come from another world ... An abyss separates us from you, a sort of vacuum of horror, it has to do with naked life itself, and little to do with the abyss between perpetrators and victims; unless, perhaps, everyone who does not know, or still thinks the way they did, is one of the perpetrators! For everything on earth has changed since THAT! And he quoted a poem of Paul Celan, speaking to himself softly, very softly, for now it was the dead speaking, the victims, the murdered ones, it seemed, coming from beyond the border back to us, the living, as if wanting to give us hope and comfort, because everything was different now, because that old death no longer existed, because we didn’t need to fear it anymore, for now THEY were actually there, quiet, hopeful, but barely audible: If there can be any sense in the death of millions of victims, it would have to be in the sheer crazy hope that a crossing has opened on the frontier between life and death. Celan: “In the mills of death you grind the white meal of promise, / you set it before our brothers and sisters / we shake out the white hair of time ... and let something now come which never was before! / Let there come a human being from the grave.” Adam’s tiny rolls of paper, which looked like miniature papyri written in German, contained things that even he had forgotten, indeed, that he had to forget, so he could go on living. He pulled out these rolls, as if they were the witnesses, and not he, as if it had all started with them ... He took them hesitantly from the ancient, beat-up desk, tentatively, as if they didn’t belong in the everyday world, things that could not be seen or felt, like copies of burned Torah rolls ... that was how he touched them, these yellowed paper rolls ... lying in his open hands ... He bent over them ... sniffed them ... then held them out to me ... as if he wanted to tell me something that was impossible to impart in any other way ... and no, they didn’t smell like old paper ... They still had smoke, ash, and the smell of burnt skin on them ... I hear Adam speaking, I hear his telephone voice, telephone conversations that went on for hours ... I hear his tape recorder voice. And I hear his “real” living voice, slightly nasal, quiet, deliberate. And of course, he always spoke in German, German words, German sentences. Once I had asked him how he could possibly bear speaking German after “that.” At this he became very angry, he shouted: But it was these SS guys who wanted to turn me into a Jew, before that I didn’t even know I was a Jew—I was a German with this language I had babbled even as a baby. It comforted me, this language, it wept within me, this, my language. I clearly heard its weeping when these human animals—they did come from Germany, yes, they were “Germans,” but could not speak proper German—when these animals would shout their false “German” phrases, these analphabetics who could only bark German like dogs. I refused: I was the German, and they were the animals, clearly, and they did not succeed in making me a Jew. I am a German AND a Jew, a gift—he laughed bitterly—may it remain part of me and all my feelings, my very existence, my poems and diaries, these un-Germans and murderers cannot be allowed to win, even afterward, and claim that THEY stand for what is “German.” But where is Adam? Was it a dream, Adam’s existence? No, we breathed the same air in his house in Schäßburg, his home, we spoke with each other night after night in this quiet small town. The little “rolls” were there, too, I could touch them, they seemed to glow, to burn up, fire without ash, but I could read what they said, it’s right there, forever, the horror of the experience can never be erased, it is burned into us who r...

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9780374144067: The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel

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