The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus. It is a story born of Dita’s experiences and the rich imagination of the author.
The story is set in the family camp at Auschwitz. The family camp was a cover the Germans concocted to deceive the world as to what was really happening in Auschwitz. While parents laboured during the day the children were gathered in Block 31. The aim was for them to play games, sports and sing songs. Learning was prohibited. Dita Adler, 14 years old, was the caretaker of the clandestine children’s library consisting of eight books. If the Germans ever found out about these books it would mean instant death.
The main theme of the story is how books and reading are something to be cherished and our right to read is something to risk death over. Dita protected these books with her life, lovingly restoring them and handing them out to the teachers each day.
The story follows Dita and her mother, Liesl, as they are taken to Auschwitz and the daily life in the family camp through sickness, death, hunger and fear as thousands of prisoners come and go in the camps around them.
The true violence of Auschwitz is very low key in this story which makes me feel it would be suited to a younger audience as a first introduction to the atrocities of the time, 13 years +. That’s not to say there is no violence, a prisoner is hung and a girl beaten.
The story had a lot of telling which caused it to lack emotion and I felt distanced from the suffering until the last 100 pages of the book where it became so much more immersive. The Librarian of Auschwitz is impeccably translated to English by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites.
Iturbe includes a moving postscript which explains his reason for writing the book and his meeting with the woman that inspired this story, Dita herself, who is still as strong, outspoken and passionate in her eighties as she was as a young girl.
You can never, ever read too many stories about Auschwitz.