I have a fondness for historical fiction that is set during WWII and that’s one of the reasons why the synopsis of The Draughtsman by Robert Lautner called out to me. The novel is set in 1944 during WWII. The main protagonist, Ernst Beck, is fresh out of university having studied to become a draughtsman. He lives in Erfurt with his young wife Etta, a woman who comes from a wealthy family, while Ernst doesn’t.
When Ernst finds his first job, he is extremely glad to be in a position to provide for his wife, although it might not be the quality of life she was used to while growing up. His new job, as a draughtsman at an engineering firm called Topf & Sons promises a better life, but when he is moved into a company house merely weeks after starting at the firm, it all seems too good to be true.
Ernst is to work in the Special Ovens Department annotating plans for a crematoria. The client? The SS. The new crematoria is supposed to improve the operations of disposing corpses at labour camps, such as Buchenwald and Auschwitz. They are over inundated and the current crematoria doesn’t seem fit for purpose. With the outbreak of typhus and all that (which we all know is not true)
Needless to say, Etta feels very uncomfortable with Ernst’s job, for good reason (in more ways than one). And as time passes and the story develops, Ernst’s ignorance about Topf & Son’s involvement with SS begins to fade. During his time working there and his visits to Buchenwald and Auschwitz, he starts to realise that perhaps his boss and employers are lying to him and looking into his personal life seemingly without his knowledge. Ernst also later learns his wife and best friend are communists and working with the Allies. This knowledge and other factors, which are better left unsaid and which I’d like the reader to be curious about, puts Ernst and Etta into grave danger.
The Draughtsman is an uncomfortable story, but a novel you can settle in bed with and absorb the story and the lives of the characters until you turn the last page. The war time descriptions of the bombings, the destitution of the civilians affected, the suffering of the Jews (merely touched upon) and the Allies’ fight against the Nazis will surely leave you in a dark mood.
With the dark subject matter, it’s a perfect read for gloomy weather. I would not identify this book as a particularly emotional read which I find a lot with WWII fiction books, but it’s a very interesting tale about the inner workings of the SS and just how much was covered up and hidden during this time. Many people who were complicit in the acts of war remained ignorant almost until the very end.
I will say that I enjoyed the read. This is what I like about historical fiction, you are educated about events of the past in the form of fiction. If you enjoy reading about this era, The Draughtsman could be an option to add onto your book shopping list.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Jonathan Ball Publishers for review consideration
Image source: from my Instagram page.
For the purpose of honesty, as expected from my readers, I must note that I found a few grammatical errors in the book. I have communicated this to the publisher who sent me the book and they have responded that this is something that will be addressed in the upcoming paperback release.