The Librarian of Auschwitz
credit to Macmillan Publishers
Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Henry Holt, 2017. 432 pages. Tr. $19.99, ISBN: 9781627796187
Ages: 13 - Adult
In 1944, Dita Adlerova, along with her mother and father and countless Jewish citizens, were transferred from the Terezín ghetto in Prague to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, they were imprisoned in the ‘family camp’ run by the infamous Dr. Mengele. The family camp, a propaganda front the Nazis constructed in order to convince international observers that Auschwitz was merely an internment camp and not a factory designed to exterminate the Jewish race, became a haven for over 500 children, most of whom were exterminated soon after its closing. During its existence, SS officers were oblivious to the fact that the German-Jewish prisoner Alfred Hirsch secretly directed a school in Family Block 31. Fredy, as Hirsch was known, tasked 14-year-old Dita with the job of block librarian. She was responsible for maintaining and concealing eight print books – contraband in Auschwitz – and six ‘living’ books – teachers who told stories by heart. Terrified but courageous, Dita was determined to keep hope alive through a few precious stories, through it meant risking her life. Originally published in Spain (2012, Editorial Planeta), this engrossing tale captures one of the darkest times in history through strait-forward descriptions and poignant prose. Present tense lends a sense of urgency and incites a forward pace to the plot. Memories and flashbacks, which enrich character identities, are recounted in past tense. Third person narrative adds sophistication. Characters are richly developed and their backstories delve into many aspects of the Holocaust including details of conditions inside Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, and Jewish life before and after the war. The story is based on the real life of Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus. This important text offers a deep and very human insight into one of history’s darkest episodes.
Dita Adlerova Kraus met her future husband Otto (Ota) Kraus in the family block of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he worked as a teacher. They eventually emigrated to Isreal. Otto Kraus wrote book titled The Painted Wall, which tells the true story of the 500 children who attended the secret school in the family camp of Auschwitz.