European Review of Speculative Fiction

Andor Bochenkov

 

Title: Monstrumfuhrer

Author: Edward M Erdelac

 

Sometimes there’s a literary conceit that seems obvious but has never been done before: Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies or Iron Sky, the Nazis hiding on the moon. Edward M Erdelac takes the Frankenstein myth and imagines the Nazis under Joseph Mengele gained access to reanimating the dead. A novel about Nazi undead supersoldiers could have been a rousing B movie style pulp adventure. This is not that book. This is a soul rending Holocaust narrative meticulously researched where the body horror and desecration of Frankenstein are echoed and amplified by the reality of Nazi atrocities at Auschwitz. Monstrumfuhrer uses the justifiably grotesque process of violently raising the unwilling dead to play out the visceral cruelty and unthinkable debasement of real-life death camps.

Erdelac raises Auschwitz from the lonely bones of its present state to the living breathing circus of horrors it once was. Using the famous Mengele twin experiments as a starting place to explore man’s inhumanity to man and then extrapolates from the tangible horrors of known experiments to the suddenly plausible violations that resulted in The Creature. Just as the original novel exposed Doctor Frankenstein as the real monster, Erdelac exposes Mengele as an abomination, a perversion of both pride and intellectual pursuit. In effect he puts the notion of science for science’s sake on trial.

This reviewer happens to have an advanced degree in history with a focus on genocide. As such, Erdelac faced a much more discerning reader: the willing suspension of disbelief is that much harder when you know how the Krema worked and how ghastly the camps were. To his credit and to our horror, Monstrumfuhrer captures the sinister malice of camp life, heaping brutality upon brutality. Mindnumbing would be a good description of the text precisely because it properly catches the essence of ghetto life, camp life, the fickle fate of partisans behind enemy lines and the ultimate chaos that comes at war’s end. You can taste the ash of human flesh as it rises on the stale wind.

Nor does Erdelac spare his characters: The Creature is a thing of menace and hatred, a self-interested and amoral creature whose might give shim the right to violate others as he pleases. In his broken hero Jotham we find a child old before he was young, disfigured by the needs of survival and murdered in soul while his body remains. Around him are children less fortunate and less sane. The Romani and Sinti called the Holocaust the Porajmos, the Great Devouring. Erdelac pays them apt tribute as well as tipping his hat to gothic literature and winking at Dracula in how he manages the gypsy camp and the tensions between ethnic victims at Auschwitz.

As a horror story this novel excels. As a way to tackle the Holocaust with enough mental distance to handle the unspeakable dread of human truth, this book surprises with its intimacy and accuracy. It serves the same purpose as Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, allowing the reader to step into the shocking unthinkable world of a death camp without losing a sense of self. There’s a story there too, a plot and its trappings that keep the tale going. These are almost irrelevant to what it achieves by simply taking a supernatural tale of desecration and turning it on its head.

Mary Shelly was supposedly challenged to tell the scariest story possible and she came up with Frankenstein and his creature. What Erdelac honours her memory by showing readers that we created something Nth times more terrifying through hatred, nationalism and an unwillingness to get along with our fellow humans. This could have been set in Kampuchea (Cambodia) or Rwanda or even Ancient Melos which fell to Athenian genocide. The story remains the same. By linking it to Mengele, the hideous butcher of so many innocents, he couples one sociopathic physician with another, linking Shelly to her future Europe and asking the reader to consider how we arrived at the Nazis in the 1930s. In 1818, when her manuscript saw print, already there were inklings of what a modern age might do to persons bent on evil. Monstrumfuhrer then meditates on that evil showing that while humanity had jumped forward a century in technology, it had learned no more of compassion or justice.