The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
BOOKS ARE DEADLY.
Interests/Topics: books, history, the Holocaust, survival, courage, hope
Curriculum Connections: English, History
Blurb: I’ve always been a reader. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. To this day my favourite thing to do is crawl in bed with a good book. Of course, lying on a beach with a piece of brain candy is pretty awesome as well. That’s how I read The Librarian of Auschwitz, in fact. Not that it’s brain candy; it’s not. But I did read it while on a beach in Jamaica (which helped warm my bones after reading about the freezing winters of Poland). And I couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that I was basking in paradise, and freedom.
Fourteen-year-old Dita Kraus, in The Librarian of Auschwitz, is imprisoned in the family camp inside Auschwitz, a Nazi-run concentration camp during World War II. For Dita, days are filled with hard work, little food, rampant disease, and constant fear. The prisoners are allowed no possessions except the clothes on their backs and what few items they’re able to hoard. Books, especially, are prohibited. To be caught with a book is a death sentence, carried out violently and publically as a deterrent to the other prisoners.
The harsh punishment doesn’t mean there aren’t people willing to break the rules, however. Eight books have been smuggled into the camp, and when asked by a Jewish leader to watch over them, Dita agrees. Carefully sewn pockets inside Dita’s clothing, and a secret cubby hole, are the only things separating the guards from the precious books. Dita knows that she is taking a tremendous risk, but the delight and escape that the books provide to her fellow prisoners give Dita the courage she needs to bear the responsibility. But when a particularly vicious German doctor takes special notice of Dita, she begins to wonder if she’s brave enough to continue her role. For if there is one thing less available in Auschwitz than compassion, it’s luck.
The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on the real-life experience of Dita Kraus.
BOOKS ARE DEADLY.
Flavour: “Two teachers look up in anguish. They are holding something that’s absolutely forbidden in Auschwitz. These items, so dangerous that their mere possession is a death sentence, cannot be fired, nor do they have a sharp point, a blade, or a heavy end. These items, which the relentless guards of the Reich fear so much, are nothing more than books: old, unbound, with missing pages and in tatters.” (4)
“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 somber times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns.” (38)
“I’m going to keep my eye on you. I’ll be watching you even when you don’t see me. I’ll be listening to you even when you think I can’t hear you. I know everything. If you break the camp rules even fractionally, I’ll know, and you’ll end up stretched out in my autopsy lab. Live autopsies are very enlightening.” (54)