Yes, there really was a pharmacist whom the world considered "The Drug Nazi".
His name was Victor Capesius, and he was the SS pharmacist-in-charge at the concentration camp Auschwitz nearing the end of World War II. It has been estimated, among other crimes against humanity, that he was personally responsible for sending approximately 8,000 people into the gas chambers and crematoriums at that camp.
The Druggist of Auschwitz. In it, Romanian author Dieter Schlesak tells the story of Victor Capesius, the apothecary at Auschwitz during its most active period as a Nazi death camp.
As described by the publisher - 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, eventual trial, and conviction.
The Druggist of Auschwitz further intimately details eye-witnessed accounts from Capesius's own prisoner pharmacist "colleagues" of the many other horrific atrocities that Capesius and the camp medical staff committed against thousands of innocent men, women, and children, some of whom Capesius knew personally before the war.
After being free from prosecution for approximately fifteen-years after the war, Capesius was eventually found guilty during the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial of assisting in the murder of at least 8,000 individuals, a charge his lawyer acknowledged, but one he personally denied. Other charges against him were assisting in the gas chambers, supervising the liquidation of the gypsy camp, and administering intracardiac phenol injections to kill prisoners but, because of lack of proof, these were dropped.
Some witnesses alleged that Capesius had committed other crimes as well; it was suggested that he had enriched himself by taking prisoners’ last remaining possessions, including gold fillings taken from their teeth after they were gassed, or that he assisted Dr. Mengele in cruel “medical” experiments on inmates. No hard evidence was, however, found for these truthful allegations too, and Capesius was unjustly sentenced to only nine years in prison!
While I'd recommend this novel to others, I found The Druggist of Auschwitz a slightly difficult read as it bounces between the testimony of varied eyewitnesses from trial documents, the author's own notes from personal interviews of victims and perpetrators, including Capesius himself, and the narrative of the one fictional character, Adam. However, the author eases that difficulty by including an addendum of most significant figures, and the use of italic and roman font typefaces for differentiation.
I'd also recommend watching the excellent documentary entitled "Memorandum".
In it, you'll see Capesius and his other soulless mass-murdering medical cohorts on film showing their angry contempt at being brought to justice after years of living large on the spoils of their crimes. You'll find it hard to believe that this sixty minute documentary was actually made in 1965.
1. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum
2. The History of the "Business With Disease"
3. Life as a human guinea pig