The Inseparables: He used LSD to recreate the horrors of Dachau by Russell Braddon
Originally published in 1968 by Michael Joseph Ltd., ‘The Inseparables: He used LSD to recreate the horrors of Dachau’ was written by Russell Braddon (1921-1995). The Australian author also wrote ‘The Naked Island’ (1952), an account of his experience as a prisoner of war in World War II. This review is written from the 1970 NEL paperback edition.
The novel begins with Erich Strauss being dropped off by a taxi outside the former German concentration camp Dachau on Christmas Day, sometime in the late 1960s. He wanders around the deserted camp, through the museum and other buildings, which are covered in snow, and tries to understand what had happened there during World War Two. He asked his parents, again and again, about the ‘Hitler time’ but they were not forthcoming.
As Erich makes his way across Dachau, he meets a girl Erna, and her three friends Max, Franz, and Karl. A strange conversation ensues in which the group of friends quiz Erich over what he sees in the camp and consider getting rid of him. It transpires that Erich has the ability to see certain colours, such as a red underneath the snow, and this is because he’d taken a dose of LSD.
‘I thought,’ Erich confessed, ‘if I stood here, in Dachau Camp, where it all happened, I might – you know, through the LSD – get turned on to the place. I thought,’ his voice dropped and he looked away from them, down at his feet, I might even feel what it was like’ – taking in a deep breath – ‘to be one of them.’ (1971, 30)
The reason the group are initially wary of him is because they are all dead, spirits of people who had died at the camp – we are told that spirits stay in the area they died – and that they believed he too was dead and didn’t belong there. However, having taken LSD, he has assumed a new perception of the camp and, furthermore, he had embodied the spirits from photographs he had seen in the museum. Erich was the architect of his experience.
Interestingly, as well as LSD providing Erich with a new quality of perception, the history of psychedelic science is used to good effect. Before he is told of the group’s plight, he mentions the drug, but Max – who is a doctor – had not heard of it, although he had read something similar about mescaline. His age and time of death, therefore, is hinted at through a scientific history, as mescaline had a much longer history of experimentation.
As the plot unfolds, all four characters were in some way involved in the Dachau Camp. Erna was a young German who was sent there; Karl a young Jew; Max a doctor who performed experiments; and Franz was an SS officer at the camp. Each of their stories is relived to some degree, which not only tells the story of the hideous conditions and behaviour in Dachau during the war, but also begins to challenge Erich’s understandings.
Erich’s role, and character arc, is perhaps best understood in light of the effects of LSD here. Forgotten memories of his parents, who were dealing with their own set of guilt about the war, are relived and entwined with the text. Indeed, he regresses to earlier times, for instance remembering “the rubble of West Berlin slowly vanished and a new city built up” (1971, 64). Yet, it is the emphasis on Erich’s discussion of ‘his generation’ that really underpins the novel.
Erich is counter-culture, ‘ban the bomb’, and a frequenter of psychedelic clubs, he also has a particularly aggressive approach to sexual relations, which is revealed through his relationship with Erna. He constantly believes that his generation is both morally superior and that it is up to them to deal with the guilt of WW2 in Germany. As he is put in the position of a guard who must bring Karl for execution, on pain of his own death, the painful psychological reality of the situation is revealed to him.
In many respects this novel serves three purposes. Firstly, it is a brutal outline of the horrors of Dachau – the atrocious way people behave to one another and the extremity of the situation – and is a reminder of all that is wrong with war. Secondly, it is meant as an indictment of 1960s youth culture. They are described as emotionally immature, sexually aggressive, and idealistic to the extreme. The horrors of Dachau, in this sense, is meant as a corrective. Thirdly, it deals with Germany’s guilt over the war, and how its repercussions are felt by the younger generation and their parents.
The use of LSD in the book, although peppered with the typical warnings over its use that were prevalent toward the end of the 1960s, is actually rather nuanced. Broadly speaking, Braddon explores the effects in terms of research – regression, depersonalization, and personal revelation – however, he goes a step further in its creative ability. The spiritual aspect of the novel, the emergence of embodied spirits, is put down to the perceptive effects of LSD.
Ultimately, Braddon is saying that LSD has the ability to put one in closer perspective with one’s surroundings, wherein one has the ability to discern a place’s history through colour and feeling. Moreover, this perception is also given a creative aspect, so far as Erich’s mind/brain, is able to literally bring characters he has seen in the museum into his reality. This underlies the whole narrative, and acts as a very interesting way of manifesting the context of the book.
The book is, in some ways, a very dated novel from the 1960s that plays into the fears of people from the time; fears of war and drugs. Yet some of the messages, especially about war and the horrors of war, are always worth remembering, so are in fact timeless messages. The use of LSD in the book, while tempered by mainstream cultural attitudes, especially towards its use by the youth, is actually quite artfully played narratively, and is a fascinating use of the drug as a literary device.