I’ve had The Librarian of Auschwitz on my shelf for quite a while and for one reason or another just not got around to it before now. I think I was trying to read upbeat stuff in the first couple of lockdowns to try and keep myself sane. Then at Christmas, I got dragged into reading Christmas fiction which I love. There’s nothing better to get you in the holiday spirit than a book filled with Cinnamon Rolls and mulled wine. In the New Year, again not being able to go out I said to myself that I’d work on unloading my bookshelf rather than keep buying more to add to it. And boy, am I glad I decided to do that.
What’s it about?
The Librarian of Auschwitz is a work of fiction, but it’s based on the real-life of Dita Kraus. Dita was a teenager in Auschwitz. One of the many Jewish people from Prague taken to this death camp along with her family and neighbours. Dita finds herself in Block 31- a strange family block where they are kept together. There is even a school for the children, where Dita helps out. She finds herself the keeper of eight books. Books were banned, and if found there would be terrible consequences for her. It may not be an extensive library, but as the author explains “they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns”.
The books are used to school the children, and the hidden possession of them gives the adults hope. They are knowledge. They are something of a normal world for them to remember in the hell they currently find themselves. The books become an escape for Dita, as they do for many of us. They are a place she can go to forget where she is. She guards them literally with her life, and we follow her story in this appalling place.
The book has everything you would expect of a book set in Auschwitz. There is talk of the lice that plagued them, typhoid that killed them, beatings from the Germans, and the dreaded Dr Mengele. If you have read other books such as The Choice or The Tattooist of Auschwitz then there may also be other characters that you recognise such as Rudi Rosenburg who escaped the camp and raised the alarm about what was truly happening in this awful place.
The book is a fictional work based on fact and one line that really got to me was this- “There’s no documentary evidence to indicate if Rudi Rosenburg cried.” This line to me says everything. We know the facts and sometimes we can get lost in numbers and reports. But at the heart of this were people. Real people. And this book really makes that clear, which is just heart-wrenching as it should be. We should never forget what an atrocity this was.
Recommend The Librarian of Auschwitz?
I have read a lot of books set in the Second World War, including many set in Auschwitz. This is one of the very best that I’ve read. It has that haunting knowledge that the things being written about really did happen. Having a central character who is real as a focus really makes the story more human, and you can connect with what happened through her. The writing is so beautifully done, you really can see everything in every scene. You feel that you are stood there alongside Dita.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Even if you don’t like historical fiction, the writing in this book is so stunning you will appreciate it just for that.
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