Most everyone knows by know the horrible story of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, and in this trying year of 2020, one can be forgiven for passing by a story about that depressing time period in our recent past! But (being a librarian, of course) I noticed it because of the title, and I was rewarded in reading it. While the darkness of that time is certainly on full display through all the expected atrocities; so also is the prisoners’ resourcefulness to survive, the resistance of the human spirit, and the care and concern some people can show each other even in the worst circumstances.
The main character, Dita, is based on a real person who tended the eight precious books that managed to make their way into the Auschwitz “family camp” of Block 31. As an experiment, somehow the Nazis running Block 31 allowed some children to stay with their parents and even attend school during the day while their parents were working — ostensibly to be taught proper German history and culture, but the resourceful teachers (prisoners themselves) managed to teach Jewish culture and history alongside geography, math, and the more traditional subjects. They are aided in the effort by eight books — ranging from an atlas to a psychoanalysis text by Freud, a Russian-language grammar to H.G. Wells’ A Short History of the World. More than the content of the books, it’s their mere existence, their attestation that a more sane world is still there and available to any who manage to survive, that gives the books their hopeful power — in Auschwitz, or to anyone in troubling circumstances.
While this book is classified as young adult fiction, the real Dita has also written an autobiography, A Delayed Life, which you can check out via UW Request.
The librarian of Auschwitz
by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites
New Arrivals, 2nd Floor