"The Commandant of Lubizec" is a harrowing account of a death camp that never actually existed but easily could have in the Nazi state. It is a sensitive, accurate retelling of a place that went about the business of genocide. Told as a historical account in a documentary style, it explores the atmosphere of a death camp. It describes what it was like to watch the trains roll in, and it probes into the mind of its commandant, Hans-Peter Guth. How could he murder thousands of people each day and then go home to laugh with his children? This is not only an unflinching portrayal of the machinery of the gas chambers, it is also the story of how prisoners burned the camp to the ground and fled into the woods. It is a story of rebellion and survival. It is a story of life amid death.
With a strong eye towards the history of the Holocaust, "The Commandant of Lubizec" compels us to look at these extermination centers anew. It disquiets us with the knowledge that similar events actually took place in camps like Be zec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. The history of Lubizec, although a work of fiction, is a chillingly blunt distillation of real life events. It asks that we look again at "Operation Reinhard." It brings voice to the silenced. It demands that we bear witness."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-11-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Readers who have not read extensively about the Holocaust may be surprised, and perhaps puzzled, to learn at this novel’s end that the Nazi death camp in Poland described in agonizing and moving detail is fictional. For those able to put aside the question of why poet (This London) and debut novelist Hicks made the choice not to describe an actual death camp, his tale will serve as a solid depiction of historical horrors. The eponymous commandant, Hans-Peter Guth, is believably painted with the schizophrenic personality required for a good family man who plays with his children before heading off to work as an architect of genocide. Hicks goes to gruesome lengths to show that those living near such extermination centers knew what was going on, graphically depicting how the windows of surrounding houses were stained by human fat. His methodical style, which mimics an actual history book, down to the inclusion of footnotes, presents the Nazis’ logical approach to mass murder via the accumulation of small but damning details. No one will mistake this for Night or Schindler’s List, but it’s nonetheless a grim eye-opener. (Mar.)