Summary: Basted on the story of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, Antonio Iturbe’s The Librarian of Auschwitz follows fourteen-year old Dita as her and her family are imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dita has been placed in charge of the camp’s small, but highly valuable and prohibited book collection under Fredy Hirsch, Block 31’s Jewish leader. Contrary to the Nazis officers’ knowledge, Fredy runs Block 31, the hut thought to be a sort’ve daycare, as a school for the camp’s children, and it is Dita’s responsibility to give the books out for lessons as well keep them hidden from the Nazis.
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
The Librarian of Auschwitz is a unique story for its focus on books, a subject that typically isn’t discussed when addressing the Holocaust. The book reminded me a lot of Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray in that I had never heard of Dita Kraus’s story and Block 31, or schools, taking place within concentration camps. While The Librarian of Auschwitz is considered a young-adult novel, it’s a book that does not have to be sorted into an age category. Yes, Dita is fourteen years old when the novel begins, but she’s forced to grow up and mature under the inhumane conditions she must live through—there’s a lot of discussion in the novel, as well as in interviews with Dita Kraus, that she didn’t really get to have a childhood due to all the restrictions on Jewish citizens in Prague. The novel not only focuses on Dita, but other members in Auschwitz. Many of the characters are based on people who were in Auschwitz with Dita, but Iturbe also incorporates real-life figures from the time period.
If you enjoyed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I think you will enjoy The Librarian of Auschwitz because both novels are quite and rightfully dark takes on the World War II and the Holocaust period. Additionally, both have an emphasis on books. Both books are definitely not a quick read—they’re quite heavy stories, between their page length and detailed stories. Each novel contributes something that the other novel doesn’t do with the time period; while The Book Thief focuses on civilian life and the danger of hiding Jews for both parties, The Librarian of Auschwitz tells what could’ve happened if The Book Thief took an even grimmer turn for the worse.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I often reach for books that take place during World War II and the Holocaust. Since I wrote a bit shorter of a review than I normally write for the sake of spoilers, listed below are a few books that I was reminded by while reading The Librarian of Auschwitz and highly recommend if you’re looking for books that take place during this time period:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys- As I mentioned above, Ruta Sepetys often tells forgotten or less-discussed stories. Salt to the Sea focuses on the worst maritime tragedy in history, the Wilhem Gustloff, as thousands of individuals race to escape the Nazi takeover and Soviet advance in East Prussia.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah- The Nightingale was one of my favorite books of 2016, and it focuses on the different lives of two sisters in WWII-era France. With her husband away on the front, Vianne is left to raise her child in occupied France and things become even more stressful when she is forced to provide room and board for a German soldier. Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, wants to have a purpose in the war and joins the French resistance effort.
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman– Prisoner of Night and Fog is a quite unique YA novel for featuring a main protagonist who grew up in the Nazi Party. When she meets a Jewish reporter, Gretchen begins to suspect that her upbringing, including her father’s murder, isn’t all what it seems to be
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys- My favorite Ruta Sepetys book, Between Shades of Gray is just so heart-wrenchingly beautiful and again tells one of the less-discussed conflicts of the WWII era, following the Soviets persecution of people from the Baltic States. Fifteen-year-old Lina and her family are forced to leave their life behind in Lithuania and live in a work camp in Siberia. I’m really looking for to Between Shades of Gray’s film adaptation, Ashes in the Snow.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- The Book Thief is probably the most widely read out of these books, and like The Librarian of Auschwitz , it focuses on the power of books, as Liesel finds herself addicted to the books the Nazis so heartlessly ban. I also recommend watching its film adaptation.
Have you read The Librarian of Auschwitz or any of the books above? Share in the comments!