The Quarry (Der Verdacht)

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THE QUARRY (Der Verdacht)

Novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, 1953

Der Verdacht, a short detective novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, was published in 1953 after being serialized in Der Schweizerische Beobachter in 1952. It later appeared in English as The Quarry (1962). It is a sequel to his better-known mystery Der Richter und sein Henker (1952; The Judge and His Hangman, 1954). Each work features the Bern police superintendent Hans Bärlach as the protagonist-sleuth bent on solving a murder mystery. Although both works have Swiss settings, the content and tone of the latter novel is Holocaust-specific.

The novel's two equally long portions take place, respectively, in two different Swiss health-care facilities over a two-month period at the end of 1948 and the beginning of 1949. The first half is set in a Bern hospital where the protagonist has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only one year to live. The second half is set in a private clinic near Zürich where he has placed himself incognito to apprehend the novel's antagonist-murderer. As in many Holocaust-related works, there are three different types of main characters: a bystander, the engaged Bärlach; the victimizer, the notorious Nazi physician Dr. Emmenberger of the Stutthof concentration camp, who was known for performing operations on inmates without an anesthetic and who was able to take flight from prosecution after the war; and the victim, Gulliver, a Jewish survivor of Stutthof and other camps who has made it his self-imposed mission to track down and murder Nazi criminals. Their interaction and the ensuing ethical questions dealing with crime and retribution are Dürrenmatt's chief concerns.

The dilemma that Bärlach finds himself facing from the outset of the work is whether the notorious Nazi physician at Stutthof was a German from Berlin called Nehle or, in fact, a Swiss doctor named Emmenberger, posing as Nehle, who after the war became head of the aforementioned clinic.

The burning drive that keeps the superintendent on track in locating the death-dealing physician and bringing him to justice is the Verdacht —literally the "suspicion"—of the work's original German title. In a twist that combines clever plotting with profound moral examination, it is the "neutral" Swiss rather than the German who turns out to be the villain, relishing the opportunity to perform sadistic experiments in the camps. The Holocaust thus illustrates a human problem rather than a merely national problem. What motivates Bärlach in going it alone so close as he is to death is the need to find an arch criminal often neglected by traditional law enforcement agencies: "The big criminals are running free while the small ones are stuck in jails. And anyway, there are all kinds of crimes nobody pays any attention to, only because they are more aesthetic than some sensational murder which gets into the headlines. But actually they are both the same, provided you look at the facts and have imagination … The really big beasts are under the protection of the state, like beasts in the zoo."

Provoked by Bärlach's relentless questioning, Emmenberger reveals himself as the impersonator of Nehle, whom he had sent away to South America in the 1930s and eventually murdered in Hamburg. As Emmenberger prepares to kill Bärlach in the clinic, he propounds the unregenerate satanic creed that allows him to feed his spirit by murdering his helpless victims using violent pain: "Freedom is the courage to commit crime, for freedom itself is a crime … For when I kill another human being … I become free … And the screams and the pain which flood toward me from glassy eyes and open mouths, the convulsing, impotent white flesh under my knife, reflect my triumph and my freedom and nothing else."

In a reversal of Holocaust roles, the victim, Gulliver, a giantlike figure of remarkable physical strength once tortured by Emmenberger, rescues Bärlach. A few minutes before Emmenberger is to begin his lethal operation, this Wandering Jew (he is repeatedly referred to as Ahasverus) forces Emmenberger to take poison.

Two other Holocaust-related characters in the novel are Emmenberger's wife and accomplice, Dr. Marlok, a Communist who feels that her human spirit was murdered both in the Soviet gulag and in the Nazi camps, and a nameless dwarf, spared by Emmenberger from Nazi extermination in order to act as his murderous tool.

Although this is Dürrenmatt's only imaginative work specifically engaging the Holocaust, the questions it raises about crime and retribution and the quest for justice are major themes throughout his oeuvre. In 1958 he wrote one other short detective novel, Das Versprechen (The Pledge, 1959), set in Switzerland but with a different protagonist.

—Steven R. Cerf

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The Quarry (Der Verdacht)

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