Today it’s back to Mandie who has a blog tour review of The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe. Thanks to Tracy Fenton for including us on the tour and to publisher Ebury Press for providing an advance copy for review. Here is what the book is all about:
The Bookish Bits
For readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice: this is the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous.
‘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…
I have always had a fascination with Auschwitz, primarily because I have never been able to truly understand how we as a human race can be responsible for the unspeakable things that took place there. I am also full of admiration for those who survived the ordeal and went on to forge lives for themselves afterwards, as for me that shows a real determination of spirit. When the opportunity came up to read the Librarian of Auschwitz I knew that this was a book I had to get my hands on.
Although primarily a work of fiction, the story itself is based on fact. The family camp and block 31 were real, there was a secret library in Auschwitz and the librarian was a 14 year old girl called Dita. Fredy Hirsch was in charge of block 31 until his death. Several of the other characters also existed and in a touching part at the end the author reveals what became of them after the war.
The book takes you between life in the camp and life for Dita and her family before this time. It is told mainly from Dita’s point of view and although it was a little slow starting and the jumps in time took a little getting used to I did find that I couldn’t put it down. As books were considered to be something that Jews should not have access to you get a real understanding of the fear that Dita lived with as she became solely responsible for their distribution within the camp and also ensuring that they were never discovered. She lived with the knowledge that one slip up could send her to the gas chamber or worse – one of Josef Mengele’s experiments. There were also those known as “living books”. These were the teachers in the family camp that used the stories in their memories to educate the children. You learn about the close bonds between family separated due to gender and the friendships that are forged due to circumstance.
The author has clearly done his research with this book and I will admit that my curiosity got the better of me as I found myself searching online for more information about some of the main characters in the book, making them more real. For this I have to thank him as I now have an insight into something that previously I knew nothing about. We have all heard of the horrors that took place but very little was known about this small place of hope that existed.
If you are looking for a no holds barred factual account of life in Auschwitz then this book may not be for you. If, however you accept it as a story based on real people and events in the camp then I think you will appreciate it. If you are wondering why I won’t say love or enjoy it…. Well for me I just think these are not words I would ever feel comfortable using considering the subject matter but I do think it’s a book you should pick up and read.
About the Author
Antonio Iturbe lives in Spain, where he is both a novelist and a journalist. In researching The Librarian of Auschwitz, he interviewed Dita Kraus, the real-life librarian of Auschwitz.
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