The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

Although classed as fiction, The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Dita Kraus (nee Polanchova). It was written by Antonio Iturbe, after extensive interviews with this Auschwitz- Birkenau survivor.  14 year old Dita was sent with her mother and father to the concentration camp in 1943 and rather than being sent to the gas chambers, as would normally have happened there, she was sent to Block 31 - Children’s block of the Family camp. As part of the Nazi propaganda machine, hundreds of children were allowed to play and be schooled for 6 months after arrival; at the end of the war this arrangement saved many lives included that of Dita. As a school helper she volunteered for the job of looking after 8 secret books, illegal and hidden from the SS. An old atlas, a book on geometry, something by Freud, a Russian dictionary and a novel were just some of what was remembered but this lovely quote sums up how special they were to the children and the adults who used them. “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 the centuries of civilisation might be lost… They were precious. She would protect them with her life”.

It is a harrowing story, as you can imagine, with little dressing up of the horrors camp internees experienced. However Dita’s beautiful and determined spirit makes this a wonderful and fulfilling book to read. It tells the real stories of human love, fear, death, triumphs and failures from within the concentration camp. For me, as a book lover and librarian, the novel reinforced the healing nature and freeing power of books in times of difficulty, as well as their ability to educate and empower.

 

Submitted by Tinya