My edition: Kindle
Genre: Non-fiction, WWII, Holocaust
Publish: January 18, 2017
Rating: 3.5 stars
The Pharmacist of Auschwitz is the little known story of Victor Capesius, a Bayer pharmaceutical salesman from Romania who, at the age of 35, joined the Nazi SS in 1943 and quickly became the chief pharmacist at the largest death camp, Auschwitz. Based in part on previously classified documents, Patricia Posner exposes Capesius’s reign of terror at the camp, his escape from justice, fueled in part by his theft of gold ripped from the mouths of corpses, and how a handful of courageous survivors and a single brave prosecutor finally brought him to trial for murder twenty years after the end of the war.
The Pharmacist of Auschwitz is much more, though, than a personal account of Capesius. It provides a spellbinding glimpse inside the devil’s pact made between the Nazis and Germany’s largest conglomerate, I.G. Farben, and its Bayer pharmaceutical subsidiary. The story is one of murder and greed with its roots in the dark heart of the Holocaust. It is told through Nazi henchmen and industrialists turned war criminals, intelligence agents and zealous prosecutors, and intrepid concentration camp survivors and Nazi hunters.
Set against a backdrop ranging from Hitler’s war to conquer Europe to the Final Solution to postwar Germany’s tormented efforts to confront its dark past, Posner shows the appalling depths to which ordinary men descend when they are unrestrained by conscience or any sense of morality. The Pharmacist of Auschwitz is a moving saga that lingers long after the final page.
Real power, however, was the ability to sometimes play God, to spare a life, even if it was only a temporary and brutal respite from the gas chamber.
For those who have seen one of my reviews on a WWII or Holocaust book, you know I grew up learning about this time period more than any other. My grandpa, my dad, and my brother are history buffs. Their specialty you wonder… WWII and the Holocaust. I have known about one of the world’s most horrific events since I was very little. I can’t even remember what age I started to learn about it.
Unlike the men in my family, I haven’t delve much into the subject, though I do have the curiosity but sometimes not the heart to learn of such horror. This book brought to my attention several little details about the Holocaust I didn’t know about. I seriously wish my grandpa and dad were here today so I can pick their brains on such of the subject matter.
The book is mostly about Victor Capesius. But it gave more of insight of the pharmaceutical company I. G. Farben and their involvement in the concentration camps, Auschwitz (I), Birkenau (Auschwitz II), and Monowitz (Auschwitz III).
Among this, the book also addressed a thought that had never crossed my mind before. When the Jews came to the ramp to be selected, they may know the guards or doctors (in this case) on a personal level. That before the war they may have done business or hung out with the guard or doctor. Such was the case for Gisela Bohm and her daughter Ella.
Ella had fond memories of Capesius from when she was twelve and her father had introduced him to her as her “pharmacist uncle.” He had given her a Bayer notepad as a gift.
Not all Germans who worked at the camp agreed with what was going on. Dr. Adolf Kromer was one, who became more depressed the longer he worked at the camp.
“Your eyes will pop out of your heads, this is Sodom and Gomorrah,” Krömer warned Capesius. “The inferno in the underworld is nothing compared to this.”
He was killed for such thoughts.
That is not to suggest that those who were unhappy at being posted to Auschwitz did anything less than their full duty in helping to murder millions of innocent civilians.
Capesius denied having involvement with Zyklon B, the pesticide that was used in the gas chambers. Many witnesses though proved him wrong by placing him as the pharmacist that gave the order to gas prisoners.
After the war he would claim that “the horrible things” he had seen at the camp were “depressing, it makes you want to vomit. You feel like you will puke any second. At first. Then you get used to it.”
Capesius and men like him took from the belonging s of the Jews arriving. The SS made prisoners extract gold teeth from the dead to be melted into golden bars. Human life did not matter if it belonged to a Jew in Auschwitz.
Out of the many concentration camps the SS had operating, Auschwitz was the number one killing machine.
ultimately 1.1 million of the 1.5 million deported to Auschwitz died immediately.
Whether denying medications to inmates was a sadistic strategy or simply a result of making the SS personnel his top priority, what is indisputable is that many prisoners who were not immediately gassed died from treatable illnesses.
Though by the beginning of 1945, the Allies were winning and Germany started to fall.
Despite their furious last ditch efforts, the Final Solution at Auschwitz had been so grand it proved impossible for the Nazis to destroy all incriminating evidence before fleeing.
God always has a way of bringing to light evil. This was one of those times. While the Nazis tried to get rid of the heinous crime they committed against human beings, they couldn’t. Their sins finally caught up to them.
Capesius was detained by the British, but they let him go. But later an inmate from Auschwitz recognized him and turned him into the U.S. He continued with his lies until finally admitting hours later that he was at Auschwitz and he worked for the SS. Capesius was acquitted of war crimes twice. He later opened his own pharmacy and started a new life. But that would all change in 1959, when he was arrested and a further investigation was conducted.
During the trial Capesius acted oddly. Many times he would smile or laugh when witnesses told testimonies or gave weird answers when asked what he had to say against the crimes he was being accused.
August 19, 1965 Victor Capesius was sentenced to nine years in jail for aiding and abetting murder, for his crimes at Auschwitz.
How much emotional brutality, what devilish sadism, what merciless cynicism must it take to act in the way that this monster acted.
While I cannot be the ultimate judge for Capesius, as that is God’s job, I still think many got away with less than what they deserved. As for the book, I really got tired after thirty percent. I’m not much of a fan of non-fiction. Trying to get through a non-fiction for me is like pulling teeth. I didn’t want to throw this on the get to later pile though. I felt that the victims of the Holocaust deserve to be heard and that the crimes of the Nazis need to be taught or lest history repeats itself.
If you are into non-fiction and can read through dry history, I highly recommend, but if you don’t like reading history in dull essay form, stay far away.