The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
I stand by the fact that I will never be able to choose a favourite book or film, I like to believe that art impacts us at different points of our lives for a multitude of reasons. If you asked me this question in my teens, I would most likely mention ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky – a coming of age novel and film, which helped me start to consider that the world is a lot larger than just what was in my view. Alas, there are more important narrative to digest, so I go on to read bigger and better things.
I read this book ‘The Librarian of Auschwitz’ during lockdown – and I read it fast. Despite being a literature student, I read hilariously slow, so this elaborates how fascinating I found the book. This is based on the true story of the Holocaust Survivor Dita Kraus, detailing her incredible story of sustaining a ‘living library’ for the children of Auschwitz at only fourteen years old. The narrative details Dita’s life as she is ripped from her home in Prague, to be inserted into a cycle of concentration camps firstly Auschwitz’s “family camp” to be finally liberated at Bergen Belson. Dita began involved in Library through the children’s Block 31 leader Fredy, to take on the dangerous task of keeping secret the eight precious and tattered books smuggled into the camp. From HG Wells’ ‘A Short History of the World’ to a Russian Grammar Book, Dita saves these books to create a space of peace and learning to help forget the chaos happening around them – even just for a few hours. The author Iturbe comes at this life changing story with such grace and poise, the story inspired by the interviews from Kraus herself, other Holocaust survivor stories and literary interpretation. We flip between the narrative of a few characters, showing the personal destruction experienced by each of the characters. Some parts of the book, whether fictitious or the truth are truly atrocious. However, it is incredibly important to submerge ourselves in these stories to understand the pain and torment that individuals have been through.
I was incredibly lucky to go and visit Auschwitz-Birkenau in summer 2019, it was a life changing experience. The silence of the place was deafening, but the stories of torment coloured the walls with pain. Reading this novel helped consolidate and inspire me to advocate for better human rights for all, regardless of the situation or social background. Hearing Dita’s incredible story presented the perseverance of human strength and passion, especially through her love for books and reading being cultivated in an impossible place setting such as Auschwitz. I would recommend this book to anyone, plus this helps a set up for the various Holocaust modules that the English department offers.
– Hannah (English and History)