Tales of Grabowski
The two novellas and several short stories in this posthumous collection (John Auerbach passed away in November, 2002, while the book was in preparation) tell the story of David Gordon, a young Polish Jew, during World War II. Turning his own life experiences into fiction, Auerbach’s alter ego experiences Hitler’s final solution from inside the disintegrating world of the Warsaw Ghetto. A cultured teacher, he watches his family and friends die or get transported to concentration camps. Escape, both from the ghetto and his own skin, he realizes, is his only hope for survival.
Once he transforms himself by way of taking on the papers and persona of a dead man, David becomes Catholic Wladyslaw Grabowski. He chooses to live in the jaws of the beast, traveling to Germany to find work as a stoker in a shipyard that builds and repairs submarines for the Third Reich. He hopes to escape to Sweden, but his mysterious contact convinces him to stay, fighting the Nazis by providing information about the submarines. He does his job well until his contact disappears, no longer meeting David to take his thick envelopes of wartime intelligence. After an aborted attempt to escape Germany, he’s caught and winds up first in a concentration camp, and then at the hands of a sadistic chief mate who engages David in a dance of death. I found Tales of Grabowski, with its powerful story, vivid characterizations, and deep humanity, captivating. A masterwork.