The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner
On the cover of Robert Lautner’s new novel The Draughtsman it says ‘We all have choices’ but under Nazi Germany and when you have been chosen to work for the SS do you have a choice? Can you speak out for others and face being found out with the dire consequences for you and your family.
It is 1944 and for Nazi Germany the net is closing in as the allies fight their way to Germany’s front door and for Ernst Beck a young unemployed engineer he just wants to work and earn some money for him and his wife Etta so that they can start a family when the war finally ends with a dream of eventually having their own home. Then the offer of a job arrives from Erfut’s prestigious engineering firm Topf & Sons. Now for Ernst he can now feel like a man again and start providing for his wife and make his parents proud. Sometimes though not everything is as it seems and for Ernst he will soon find out what the SS have really been doing. On his first day Ernst joins the Special Ovens Department designing new ovens that can withstand burning all day and night at special ‘prison camps’ at Buchenwald and Auschwitz but as visits to both camps including a dangerous situation it soon dawns on Ernst that he has not been told the truth about what these ovens are for and the story of executing criminals and those that have died of disease cannot surely amount to why these ‘special’ ovens are being designed and why the secrecy as he has to report direct to Berlin. For Ernst and Etta there are some trappings that go with the job as he is a special employee. But soon the real truth comes to Ernst that his employers have been colluding with the SS and now he has a choice to make does he risk his life and that of his beautiful wife Etta or does he start telling the truth that these ovens are part of the Crematoria for the concentration camps and he will have a hand in the Holocaust if he remains silent. The terrible burden ways heavy for Ernst as he weighs up the consequences of being complicit. What would become of his wife and even his parents. There now worrying signs that there is no escaping for Ernst.
The Draughtsman is an incredible achievement as Lautner explores how the mind plays out when suddenly life is generous while others struggle and how could he possibly give this new lease of life up. The one aspect of the story is how the war is going for Germany and how close the allies are now as the last months of the war begin. Germany is losing the war there will be heavy price to pay for those found guilty of being compliant and complicit in the Holocaust. This is a dark and at times harrowing read as the themes involved but it is a compelling read and one that will ask many questions of the reader. After you have read this novel ask yourself in a country that was fearful when neighbour turned against neighbour what would you do? This is a novel that should not be treated lightly. The authors note at the end of the book testifies to this. Without doubt a full five star novel.
Thank you to The Borough Press for the advanced review copy.
The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner is published by and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.