Third tour of the day is for a book which I am humbled to be hosting on TWG today; ‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’ by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites. Thank you to Tracy Fenton for the blog tour invite, and thank you to Ebury, Penguin Books for the ARC. Here is my review:
‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.
But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…
What does TWG think?
I really have no idea how to review this book to be honest. It’s not that I didn’t like it because, as weird as this sounds given the topic of the book, I did really enjoy it. I mean, this book is about the prisoners of Auschwitz and the Nazis. I don’t feel qualified enough to comment on the devastations of that time, does that make sense? Obviously I am going to, but I apologise in advance if I just ramble!
‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’ is based on the true story of one of the prisoners in the camp, Dita Kraus, written in the book as ‘Dita Adler’. There are some parts of the storyline which have been fictionalised – good luck to those trying to work out which bits are which! Of course, if you googled every single thing in the book, I’m sure the fictional pieces will jump out at you! I did end up googling some things whilst I was reading the book, not because I wanted to double-check that it was factually correct, but more so because I wanted to see the faces of the imbeciles who led people towards their deaths. Not just a small handful of people, not that that would make it any easier to swallow, but an estimated 1 million people. ONE MILLION!
At times I struggled to believe what I was reading. The fact that the SS soldiers and the Kapo were so blasé about what they were doing, sent chills up my spine. What possessed them to get caught up in Hitlers dirty work? How could they live with themselves knowing that they had sent innocent people, including young children, to their deaths? At one point in the book, the story described just how one young child was sticking their tongue out at a solider as they were being put into the chamber. Heartbreaking.
I was in awe at Dita’s strength as, for such a young girl, she clearly had to grow up very quickly to be able to get through the things that she did. She saw people die right before her very eyes. She protected her mother from a situation which could have turned out a lot worse if she hadn’t. She made friends with children one day, only to hear that they have been removed from the camp and sent to a chamber. No way of saying goodbye. No way of protecting people who came to be like an extended family. Dita’s hands were tied, and at times that was quite literal.
Just like the title suggests, there was a library in Block 31. Hang on, let me correct that. There was a SECRET library because, if prisoners were found with books on them, it warranted a death sentence. Death. Because they read a book. I’m literally shaking my head here. And, seeing as Dita ended up being the librarian for Block 31, and responsible for the collection of the five books in the block, she had literally put herself in the firing line knowing full well what the outcome would be should she be caught. Yet her love for books, according to her, was worth playing with death for.
Alongside Dita’s journey, we also follow the lives of several other figures such as Fredy Hirsch, leader of Block 31, and Dr Mengele, a man who liked conducting inhumane experiments on the prisoners….just because he could. There are a lot of other historical names noted throughout this book, a lot of which don’t deserve their names in print, but unfortunately it’s an important part of our history.
Before reading ‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’, I had obviously heard about the gas chambers and such, but I had never read a book with Auschwitz at the forefront of its storyline. I am glad that I finally decided to read about the devastation of those years, and finding out little details which helped the prisoners during that time, such as coming together and singing songs on the way to the chamber. Unity at such a dark time.
I don’t think I will ever understand the why’s and wherefores about this particular subject, but, thanks to Antonia Iturbe’s outstanding writing, I am determined to broaden my knowledge. It’s a shame that me doing that won’t change the situation for the thousands and thousands of people who lost their life, but it’s a small way of honouring the memory of the survivors.
‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’ moved me, devastated me, and left me utterly broken. Nothing at all compared to what people endured at the hands of the Nazis I know. It goes without saying that Antonio Iturbe has written a heart wrenching novel, simple because you would need to be made of stone to not be moved by even a little detail in this book. I am blown away by the amount of research it must have taken in order to complete this book. I, like I said at the start, am blown away by Dita Kraus, especially as she retraced her steps many years later.
One of my top books of all time, ‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’ is an emotional, harrowing novel which details some of the heartbreaking events from Auschwitz. A book which I will never, ever forget.