The Librar­i­an of Auschwitz

Anto­nio Iturbe;‎ Lilit Thwait­es, trans.
  • Review
By – January 31, 2018

The Librar­i­an of Auschwitz by Anto­nio Iturbe;‎ Lilit Thwait­es, trans. | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

It’s Jan­u­ary 1944. Four­teen-year-old Prague native Edi­ta Dita” Adler has recent­ly arrived at Auschwitz from Terezin with her par­ents. She is named the care­tak­er of the eight books hid­den in Block 31 and becomes the librar​i​an​.In the sub­cul­ture of the camp, she bar­gains to have secret pock­ets made inside her smock so that she can hide the books dur­ing Nazi inspec­tions. Read­ing allows Dita an escape from the dis­mal and des­per­ate life in the exter­mi­na­tion camp that even­tu­al­ly claims her father.

Josef Men­gele tells Dita he has his eye on her, and that can only mean she’s tar­get­ed for bizarre and poten­tial­ly fatal med­ical exper­i­ments. She puts her trust into youth leader Fredy Hirsch. When he tells her that not every­thing is as it seems to be,” she real­izes just how true a state­ment that is; she comes to ques­tion her faith in him and in every­one she meets.

The mag­ic of this nov­el, which is rem­i­nis­cent of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief in tone and omni­scient voice, is the descrip­tion of vis­cer­al yet sen­si­tive details. It is clear, for exam­ple, just how much Dita loves books, mend­ing their pages as if she is a pro­fes­sion­al con­ser­va­tor. We see Dita’s trans­for­ma­tion into a strong old­er teen who takes risks to pro­tect her loved ones.

To write The Librar­i­an of Auschwitz, author Anto­nio Iturbe inter­viewed the real librar­i­an of Auschwitz, Dita Polá­chová Kraus, and trav­eled with her to Terezin. While this book doc­u­ments her expe­ri­ences at Terezin, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen, it also rich­ly imag­ines the lives of those around her. Although Dita fig­ures promi­nent­ly in the nov­el, Iturbe also brings in the nar­ra­tives of real-life Fredy Hirsch and reg­is­trar Rudi Rosen­berg. Iturbe also inter­weaves well-known per­son­al­i­ties such as Men­gele and Anne Frank, some more suc­cess­ful­ly than oth­ers. Back mat­ter includes a What Hap­pened To” sec­tion and a list­ing of pri­ma­ry documents.

Iturbe has a knack for stat­ing philo­soph­i­cal insights that take one’s breath away. The read­er is left with a sense of tri­umphal spir­it and the pow­er of books and read­ing. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 13 and up.

Bar­bara Kras­ner is an award-win­ning poet and his­to­ri­an who focus­es her writ­ing on the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca and dur­ing the Holo­caust. She teach­es in the his­to­ry depart­ment of The Col­lege of New Jer­sey and serves as Direc­tor, Mer­cer Holo­caust, Geno­cide & Human Rights Edu­ca­tion Center.

Discussion Questions