Pursuing newly opened legal archives to expose the case of a Romanian-born German pharmacist who was key in dispensing Zyklon B poison gas and attending to the selection process at Auschwitz.
Why is a case decided at the 1965 trial of Nazi criminals garnering new interest? Miami-based journalist Posner, who has collaborated on many books with her husband, Gerald Posner, focuses on a little-known middle bureaucrat, Victor Capesius (1907-1985), who played an important role at the Auschwitz death camp yet flew under the denazification radar for many years after World War II. The hunting of Nazi criminals in Germany was stymied by the burden of having to prove that a defendant was linked to a specific killing. However, after the landmark decision in 2011 against John Demjanjuk, a former guard at Sobibor death camp—which stated that “it was impossible for anyone who served at Sobibor not to have played an integral part in mass murder”—many cases were reopened. Posner tells the story of a middling ethnic German man from a small Transylvanian town who gained his pharmaceutical doctorate degree from the University of Vienna and eventually landed a plum job as a national sales rep for Bayer, IG Farben’s drug subsidiary. The author delves into the Farben role in building up the deadly Nazi war machine and specifically Farben’s construction of a synthetic rubber-fuel plant run by slave labor: Auschwitz. Enlisted in the German army in 1943 and stationed to Auschwitz to take over the chief pharmacist job when his predecessor was arrested for “spreading defeatism,” Capesius had the keys to the dispensary, which held medicine and the Zyklon B that was used in the gas chambers. Thousands of innocent people were selected to die by the flick of his hand. Posner ably delineates how Capesius and others enriched themselves by stealing inmates’ jewelry and gold from their teeth.
A gruesome story eloquently told.