The Librarian of Auschwitz, written by Antonio Iturbe and translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites, is an historical fiction novel based on the true events of Dita Kraus. When the story begins Dita is 14 years old and she, her family, friends, neighbors and some strangers are already living in Block 31 of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Block 31 was considered the “family block or camp” since the Nazis allowed children to live in the camp with their mothers and sometimes their fathers would be there too. The parents had to perform labor supporting the Nazi efforts in the war; while the parents are working in factories, the children are in school. Freddy Hirsch was the one to convince the regime to allow them to keep an eye on the children while the parents worked to make sure they didn’t cause any trouble. In reality, the school was a real school in which the children were taught math, science, literature and history as best they were able to given their circumstances; since Hirsch and many of the teachers in the camp wanted to make sure the children did not leave uneducated and ill-prepared be successful in life if they survived. As part of the school was a small library – a very small library with less than 10 books and Dita was the librarian. As the librarian she had duties to perform; some of those duties were keeping the books clean, repairing any damage to the books, handing them out to teachers for class during the day, collecting them at the end of the day and putting them in the designated hiding spot. There were other hiding spots and it was Dita’s job to move the books to different hiding spots to keep them from being found by Nazi soldiers, or stolen or damaged by other means.
I’m listening to the wheels in my brain turning.Professor Morgenstern, p. 68
In the beginning of the story, the children are going through a normal school day using the library books when all of sudden they find out there is going to be an inspection. Dita immediately runs around the classroom collecting the books from each teacher, hiding them under her clothing and settling in the back of the room. After the inspection of the classroom area (which was basically a giant open space that was shared by the teachers and students of various grades) which was clean, the soldiers announced that they will conduct a search of each individual. Dita was nervous during the search, but as they were searching each individual child towards the front of the classroom, Dita was working to come up with a plan to get the books into a safe place the Germans wouldn’t notice. Lucky for Dita, Professor Morgenstern saved her from being searched and for annoying the inspector(s) so much that they decided to leave before completing the inspection of each child. Dita spent a lot of her time in school reading the books in the library – she enjoyed reading because it allowed her to escape the camp and not worry about death.
Dita’s best friend from when they lived in Poland, Margit, was at the camp too and they were glad to have each other to talk to, joke around with and lean on during difficult times. The story follows Dita’s story of survival in the death camp in her own voice; Dita also tells the story of a whole cast of characters such as Professor Morgenstern, Reneé, Miriam Edelstein, Viktor Pestek, Ota Keller, Freddy Hirsch, Rudy Rosenberg and Alice Munk. The story is told from Dita’s point-of-view based on her own life, the information available to her at the time and information learned later. All of the characters’ stories are intricately and beautifully woven together by the author; it is well-written with espionage, action and love. I loved the book despite its sad moments and horrific truths. Honestly, so many things happen in the book that trying to summarize it all would not do the story much justice because there is so much information about a fairly large cast of characters. My biggest advice is to read the book if you haven’t already.
Why don’t you come to Prague? I can’t love you from a distance!Ota Keller, p. 406
I have a lot of favorite characters in this book – Dita, Professor Morgenstern, Miriam Edelstein, Ota Keller, Dita’s parents, Viktor Pestek and Freddy Hirsch; I like Dita because of how well she takes care of the books in the library, how much she enjoys reading and her strong will to survive. I like Professor Morgenstern because he puts on a show to make people think he is a bumbling idiot when, in fact, he is really intelligent, kind and is able to use that to keep people safe sometimes. Miriam Edelstein because of her nurturing personality, her patience and kindness; I like Ota Keller because he talks with Dita about the books and it is obvious he enjoyed reading as much as she did. Dita’s parents are your typical parents who just want to see their children grow up to be successful and happy. Viktor Pestek was German who fell in love with a Jew, Reneé, and decided that he wanted to save her. I like that he decided that what the Germans were doing was wrong and he didn’t want to take part in it anymore.
He would talk to Reneé about escaping with her, taking her on a date and one day marrying her – Reneé didn’t know how to react to his advances and feelings for her. She believes that he could be tricking her, but also believes that he could be serious. Once she explained that she would never leave her mother behind, he decided that he would just have to save them both then so he and Reneé could be together. That was when Reneé began to believe that his feelings for her could be genuine and the sound of escaping with her mother sounded good. I like Freddy Hirsch because he (and the other teachers) made sure the children were still learning and trying to give them one normal thing in their lives. I think each character showed courage at some point in the story, each of them showed some act of bravery, and each of them maintained some kind of hope no matter how bad things got. I would recommend this book to anyone – it’s good and you’ll enjoy it; I especially recommend it to readers of historical fiction. You’ll love the book. My husband bought the hardback book for me from Barnes & Noble for the Member price of $17.99 (Regular price is $19.99).
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