A heart-rending novel about a Nazi death camp that didn't exist—but could have.
Hans-Peter Guth is a devoted family man, the type who takes his kids camping, gets on the floor to play soldiers with his son and talks to his daughter about the book she’s reading. He's also a mass murderer, responsible for the deaths of—by his own estimation—a million Jews. Guth is commandant of the Lubizec death camp in Poland, where trainloads of Jews are unloaded, stripped naked, shaved, then crammed into gas chambers. Of course, Guth himself never lays a finger on anyone—he leaves that to his sadistic guards—but he certainly runs the show, trying every day to mass murder more and more efficiently. Meanwhile, the few that the Nazis keep out of the gas chambers to serve as slave labor eke out a miserable and short existence, treated like animals and devoid of hope. Hicks, author of several poetry collections (Finding the Gossamer, 2009, etc.), tells the story of the fictional Lubizec as if it were a historical account, complete with footnotes and quotes from future fictional documentaries, to devastating effect. Of course, most of the things that happened in Hicks' fictional camp happened in the real death camps, but Hicks' documentary style not only adds a layer of realism to the story, but also allows him to comment on certain inherent problems with books on the subject. For instance, Hicks repeatedly underscores the sad fact that tales of the Holocaust tend to focus disproportionately on the Nazis since they were the ones keeping records and since exponentially more of them survived to tell what happened in the camps. Hicks points out that each and every one of the millions of innocent people who died in the camps are the ones whose stories actually deserve to be told. Hicks' prose is clear and unflinching, and while, as a result, there are many difficult-to-read scenes, this is as it should be.
Thought-provoking and gut-wrenchingly powerful.