The Librarian of Auschwitz – a book review by Elena Bowman

February 23, 2018 by Elana Bowman
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“Dita caressed the books. They were broken and scratched, worn with reddish-brown patches of mildew; some were mutilated. But without them, the wisdom of centuries of civilisation might be lost – geography, literature, mathematics, history, language. They were precious. She would protect them with her life.”

And so Dita did.

This is a story of a 14-year-old girl in Block 31. What’s extraordinary about this book is that Dita, her mother, and her father lived in a family block run by the SS. And what is also extraordinary is that Dita spent night after night hiding eight books in inventive ways from the Nazis. She at first reluctantly became the Librarian of Auschwitz. At first.

Block 31 was unique for it was a family camp where families were allowed to remain together. Parents were sent to work, their children were sent to ‘school’. It was a deceitful disguise by the Nazi regime; to ‘show’ that children were educated, played games, and received schooling to the outside world in order to hide genocide. Even though Block 31 was a purpose-built ‘children’s block’ the prisoners suffered from death, torture, starvation, humiliation, cold, exhaustion, illness, like any other prisoner throughout the camps in WW11.

The book interweaves through the lives of each prisoner in Block 31 and lessons derived from the prisoners, the Nazis, the survivors, and the children. There were eight books, which were hidden every night and 6 books which were read orally. During her time in Auschwitz, Dita was given hope, and a task (which in some ways, the reader believes it kept her alive); and spent her time with her best friend Margit mourning lives lost.

Elana Bowman

By methodically studying and interviewing the lives of both the survivors and victims of Auschwitz, each person had a story to tell, reflected by Dita’s own experiences and memories, as well as Iturbe’s interviews with the surviving prisoners. They all loved, anguished, suffered, dreamt, hurt, and learnt. Most of the prisoners in Block 31 were passionate about education, were curious, and were filled with fear and doubt during their time at the camp. This book allows you to listen to their stories. This book is about remembrance.

Some of the German soldiers seemed to have had a conscience. Some seemed to develop romantic feelings for their prisoners. Some of them might have been forced to join Hitler’s cause. By researching the victims, survivors, and terrible horrors of the Holocaust, Itrurbe wrote the book without bias; leading readers with the desire to learn more about people who survived (on both sides of the war), and to hear their stories.

In a way; this book is an ode to book lovers and book worms everywhere. It is also an ode to hope. Elie Wiesel wrote about hope. Anne Frank wrote about hope. The teachers who passed the 8 books to each other and Dita hiding the books each night was about hope, curiosity, and imagination telling a story about a little library kept secret in one of the worst genocides of our times.

Dita Kraus survived the camps and now lives in Israel.

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