Death is my profession
Death is my profession (in the original French La mort est mon métier) is a biographical novel by French writer Robert Merle. The original was published by Éditions Gallimard in 1952, the German edition by Aufbau-Verlag in 1957. It describes the life of Rudolf Höß (called Rudolf Lang in the book). He was a commandant in the concentration camps of Auschwitz during the Second World War.
The novel is written in the first person. The first half of the book gives a detailed account of Rudolf Lang’s childhood and youth. In describing his childhood, Merle refers to conclusions drawn by the American psychologist Gustave M. Gilbert, who had conducted a series of interviews with Höß during his imprisonment. Central to this is the figure of the strict Catholic, cold and pedantic father.
This is followed by Lang’s military career as a war volunteer in the Middle East during World War I and as a Freikorps member in Lithuania, the Rhineland, and Upper Silesia, as well as his career in the NSDAP, the SA, and the SS.
In the third part of the work, Lang’s activities as commandant at Auschwitz are described in detail. Here Merle refers mainly to the documents of the Nuremberg trial as well as to notes that Höß made while in Polish custody, which are also available in print in several languages.
Merle succeeds in portraying the character development of the fictional Rudolf Lang in a form based on a thorough knowledge of Höß’s biographical facts. He traces the possible influence of a strictly authoritarian, conservative upbringing on his character development.
The novel was made into a (West) German feature film in 1977, titled Aus einem deutschen Leben, directed by Theodor Kotulla – starring Götz George.
- La mort est mon métier. Gallimard, Paris 1952, TB 1976: ISBN 2-0703-6789-4 last 1997, ISBN 2744105996.
- in German: Der Tod ist mein Beruf. Novel. Trans. Ulrich Noch. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1957; last 2011, ISBN 3746627869.
- Anne Crochet: “La mort est mon métier” de Robert Merle. Series: Fiche de lecture. Le Petit Littéraire, Paris 2011, ISBN 2806211131.
- Also published by several other publishers; the Aufbau editions from 1972 onwards with a three-page afterword by the author
- 24 pages, esp. for school purposes; with questions. “La mort est mon métier, rédigé entre 1950 et 1952, appartient à la littérature concentrationnaire dans la mesure où il raconte comment le régime nazi a pu mettre sur pied les camps de concentration d’Auschwitz et de Birkenau. La première partie du récit est une biographie romancée de Höss, commandant du camp d’Auschwitz dans les années quarante. À partir des notes du psychologue américain Gustave M. Gilbert, qui a interrogé Höss en prison, Merle a construit le personnage de Rudolf Lang et a imaginé ce qu’aurait pu être sa vie. La seconde partie du roman est consacrée à l’aspect logistique de la conception et de la construction des camps de concentration; Merle s’est appuyé sur les comptes rendus du procès de Nuremberg”. Also available as online version